Nathan leaves with tightness in elbow
Twins closer records one strikeout, two walks in first game
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Twins closer Joe Nathan said he was told by doctors following his right elbow surgery in October that he'd experience some soreness at times during his recovery.On Saturday, in his first game action since the surgery, Nathan retired just one batter before being pulled from the game for precautionary reasons due to "tightness and achiness" in his surgically repaired right elbow. "We didn't want to push through anything," Nathan said. "I think it's being more careful than anything right now. We're taking things slow because we still have a lot of time." After exiting the game, Nathan headed back across town to the Twins' Spring Training complex to be evaluated by club physicians. Nathan didn't expect to have an MRI on the elbow, but said he'd wait to see what the doctors said before trying to figure out what's next for him this spring. "Until we get that evaluation, I don't want to come to any assumptions that I'm going to be fine or not," Nathan said. "But like I said, [there was] some tightness and achiness that they didn't want to take a chance [on] right now." Nathan, 35, entered Saturday's contest against the Red Sox at the start of the third inning. Nathan had what he called a "great" bullpen session before coming into the game and striking out Mike Cameron. But Nathan then started to feel his elbow tighten up as he issued two consecutive walks to Bill Hall and J.D. Drew. On the final pitch Nathan threw -- a fastball for ball four to Drew -- he looked visibly upset and it prompted a visit to the mound from pitching coach Rick Anderson and assistant trainer Dave Preumer. Following a brief meeting on the mound, Nathan was taken out of the game and replaced by left-hander Glen Perkins. Nathan threw a total of 20 pitches, 10 for strikes. "I got out there for my first game situation, probably got after it a little bit more with more sliders," Nathan said. "It's hard to simulate that level of intensity until you actual get into a game." Nathan, who posted a 2.10 ERA with a career-high 47 saves last season, had surgery on Oct. 20 to remove bone spurs and loose bodies from his right elbow. The procedure was performed by noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews. While Nathan said earlier in the spring that he'd likely have to work through some soreness in the elbow, the right-hander had thrown bullpen sessions and batting practice without any problems since arriving to camp on Feb. 21.
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Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he wanted to wait for word from the team doctors before drawing any conclusions as to what this setback might mean for Nathan."No one really thinks it's a big deal," Gardenhire said. "He's had a surgery there. It's soreness in the same spot. But I can't tell you until we talk to our doctors and see what they say and see how he feels [Sunday]. Supposedly there wasn't a lot of concern, but we'll see." Wearing an ice pack wrapped around his elbow as he spoke with reporters about the injury, Nathan seemed relatively upbeat about the situation. "They said with this type of operation, you're going to have days where it's not going to feel great," Nathan said. "There's going to be tightness, going to be achiness in there, and it may be scary, but you've got to understand that it's something you're going to have to go through -- and it's a good thing. It means you're getting through some things and turning the corner." Nathan acknowledged that getting taken out of Saturday's game due to the tightness would be considered among those scary moments, but his hope is that it's just a temporary setback. "It's never fun when you have to get pulled out of a game, especially by the training staff," Nathan said. "I wish things could go smooth, but [we've hit] a little speed bump right here, and we'll see how things feel tomorrow and go from there."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.