10/04/12 10:00 AM ET
Texas benefits from Nathan's return to form
By Eric Gilmore / Special to MLB.com
"What he did pretty much sums him up," Rangers pitcher Scott Feldman said. "It's a pretty incredible job to go out there, pitch two games, battle back, stay mentally strong after the way things turned out in the first game and go out there and get the job done in the second game."I think he just brings a real good veteran presence. Kind of somebody all the younger guys can look up to. And even guys that aren't necessarily young but want to learn what makes a successful pitcher, he's somebody that is really a valuable guy to have on the team." Two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery, which cost him the 2010 season, Nathan converted 37 of 40 save opportunities this season, his first with the Rangers. He had a career-high 31 consecutive saves from April 15 to Sept. 12. The former Twins staple made his fifth All-Star team and first since '09. "Just going through the grind," Nathan, 37, said of his season, which continues Friday night at 7:30 CT against the visiting Orioles in a Wild Card clash. "I knew I'd done plenty to prepare, plenty to get myself ready, but it's just about coming out and doing your daily work. After you get done you can look back and see what you accomplished, but right now it's kind of just concentrating on what I need to do to get ready for each day and to prepare myself and to do what's right for this club. "Doing that has created this pretty nice season after coming off of Tommy John. And people say I'm old, so I guess I am. I don't feel that way, though. Just keep doing your thing and come out and hope for the best." Nathan signed with the Rangers as a free agent on Nov. 22 after saving 260 games over seven seasons with the Twins. The Rangers had plans to move closer Neftali Feliz to the rotation and were shopping for a replacement. Even though Nathan struggled to regain his form in 2011, the Rangers saw enough vintage Nathan down the stretch to make an aggressive pitch for him in free agency. "Our reports on Joe were pretty good from midseason on," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "We tried to acquire him in August, actually, at the August deadline. It obviously didn't get far enough down the line. We had a sense that we wanted to start Neftali this year, and to do so we didn't want to weaken the bullpen. We wanted to bring in somebody to fill that role. "There were a number of guys out there this winter. As we went through it, for a variety of reasons he rose to kind of the top of our chart, and we moved quickly as soon as free agency started. Brought him into Texas. We signed him within a couple of weeks." Rangers manager Ron Washington knew plenty about Nathan after facing him for so many years when Nathan played for the Twins and tormented hitters with his mid-90s heat, nasty slider and big curve. But he said Nathan came to the Rangers with a few questions that needed answers. "We weren't blind when we got him," Washington said. "We did our due diligence, and our scouts felt like toward the end of the year that his arm speed and his stuff was back. That's why we got him. Yes, we were not so sure how he would hold up, but Joe began to prove all of that wrong after a sluggish start. "I don't think anyone works as hard as Joe. So Joe knows what it takes to get himself in the shape he needed to handle the job of a closer, and he's done just that. We really didn't know when and how it was going to come around, but it finally came around." Nathan, as Washington said, regained his All-Star form through hard work. He has been an actions-speak-louder-than-words leader for the Rangers, setting an example for the rest of the staff. Nathan's actions spoke volumes when he came back to save the second game in Sunday's doubleheader. "It shows what kind of athlete he is, first of all," Rangers catcher Mike Napoli said. "Everyone doesn't see what he does in the weight room and what he does every day. I see him in the weight room every day. When we see him do that, we're not surprised that he can." "He takes care of his body. That's another thing that's good for our bullpen and the young kids here. They see how hard he works, being an older guy, and what it takes to have a long career. He's done that his whole career. I think it's just good for our young guys to be able to see that stuff, see what it takes to do what he does." Nathan pitched in both ends of a doubleheader for the first time in his career and became the first Ranger to blow a save and save a game on the same day. Daniels marveled at the poise Nathan showed, answering "all the questions" from reporters after the first game then regrouping and coming through in the nightcap. "You don't take those kind of things for granted," Daniels said. Nathan, not surprisingly, downplayed his accomplishment. "Results didn't work the first time, but everything felt good," Nathan said. "You can't pay attention to results all the time. Sometimes you're going to make pitches and get beat. Sometimes you don't make pitches. But I knew I felt good so I knew I'd be all right for Game 2." As it turned out, Nathan was more than all right in Game 2, just hours after giving up a two-run double to the Angels' Torii Hunter in a 5-4 loss. He got Albert Pujols to pop out then, after walking Hunter, retired Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales to secure an 8-7 Rangers victory. "As a young player, you look up to a guy like that," Rangers rookie reliever Tanner Scheppers said. "You just want to become what he is. He's been so successful. [Sunday] I think was really special. How many opportunities do you get to do it again? So that was pretty cool."
Eric Gilmore is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.