Detroit Tigers’ closer Joe Nathan knows better


After the succession of hot farts the Detroit Tigers’ starters had been lining up, it was absolutely refreshing to see Anibal Sanchez come in and dissect the Oakland A’s. His motion was fluid, his pitches were crisp, and everything about his demeanor made one think that this was a game where only one run would be all he needed.

May 27, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers infielder Nick Castellanos (9) catches Oakland Athletics right fielder Josh Reddick (not pictured) fly ball in the eighth inning at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports. Detroit won 6-5.

Unfortunately, the bottom of the ninth didn’t hold that same thought – John Jaso smacked a ball to Nick Castellanos, who got a glove on it but couldn’t secure the out. Coco Crisp (already on second base via a double of of Sanchez) advanced to third, Jaso was safe at first, and then Josh Donaldson crushed a slider over the fence. Game over, cranky morning ensured.

Joe Nathan, he of the 13 years of veteran service, came into the ninth with a runner on and one out against one of the better teams in all of baseball, which is a precarious position for any closer. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the job done, and the fact that Nick Castellanos couldn’t come up with a key play didn’t do Nathan any favors. But that’s the thing: despite the fact that Castellanos didn’t come up with the play, this ending of the game – the whole basis of the Closer position – falls squarely on Nathan’s shoulders.

After wards Nathan, who has blown 4 of his 16 save opportunities for the Tigers during this young season, spoke about the pivotal play:

"“The big out there was getting Jaso, I think,” Nathan said. “You get him and it changes everything. It changes how your approach is against Donaldson. It changes how you can pitch to him. It gives me a chance to play with him a little bit. When I guess we didn’t get Jaso, it puts you in a tough spot. First and third. Real good hitter at the plate. It kind of forces me to go after one of the better hitters in the lineup. Like I said, Jaso was the out that we thought we had, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.”"

…’It kind of forces me to go after one of the better hitters’? Even if Jaso was out, Nathan would still have to face Donaldson with a runner in scoring position, so no, it didn’t even delay the inevitable.

To me, this sounds like a frustrated player being slightly bitter that he couldn’t get his job done. It also sounds like lingering resentment that he himself was put into an awkward spot because Castellanos didn’t get Jaso out – it wasn’t a flagrant accusation by any means, but those grapes sure tasted sour.

For Nathan to even remotely throw Castellanos under the bus is a really sorry move by a veteran of his stature; Castellanos is a rookie after all, and his improvement this season (offensively and defensively) has been very encouraging, so why leave him out to dry and potentially ding up his confidence? Why make it seem like this ending is his burden to bear?

Sure, there was a possibility that had Castellanos snagged Jaso’s hit he also could’ve doubled up Crisp, but that is all unprovable speculation. Joe Nathan is the one who served up the gopher ball. Joe Nathan is the one who is being paid a lot of money to prevent these types of scenarios from happening. Joe Nathan should have closed the game.

And now, Joe Nathan should take Castellanos aside and try to make things right.