It takes an awful lot to be booed in a Spring Training game in which those in attendance are usually more worried about sunburn than a blown save.
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Working in the fifth inning (after four innings of solid, scoreless work from Justin Verlander and Joakim Soria), Nathan came in with a 2-0 Detroit lead against the Philadelphia Phillies at Joker Marchant Stadium. He couldn’t finish the inning, leaving with two outs after allowing six runs (four earned) on five hits and issuing a walk.
Nathan had a couple scoreless games since a rocky start to the Grapefruit League for the veteran, but today was an utter disaster. More troubling than the hits and runs allowed was Nathan’s lack of pitch location and speed. Most of his pitchers were in the high 80’s with one topping out at 91 miles per hour, according to NBC Sports.
The Tigers do not seem married to Nathan as the closer this year. Unlike last year the team was unwilling to make waves by cutting or demoting the then 39-year-old from the closer’s role. Even when Soria was brought in, he was not used in that spot. In the rare occasions where Brad Ausmus used Joba Chamberlain, it was also a disaster.
Could the answer be Bruce Rondon?
The 24-year-old was handed the closer’s role two years ago after maligned former closer Jose Valverde was not retained. It was clearly not his time as the youngster was knocked around and Valverde was ultimately brought back for a short, unsuccessful reunion. From there Rondon went down to Toledo and found his stuff.
He came up with the Tigers mid-year 2013 and was quite effective until arm troubles shut him down during the postseason. Those injuries lasted into Spring 2014 when it was determined he needed Tommy John surgery.
The Tigers have been very careful with Rondon this spring, bringing him along very slowly, throwing side sessions and BP. Today was the first day he got into a Spring Training game and he was impressive.
He did surrender a double and didn’t strike out a batter, but his speed was phenomenal. His first pitches reached 97 and MPH and his third pitch hit triple figures. One of Rondon’s problems in his early 2013 days was location, but he located nine of his 15 pitches for strikes.
So while Rondon is rising, Nathan is falling. The Tigers have to be concerned about Nathan. Could they be shopping a thin closers market? If not they had better be looking.
It is very early for Rondon’s comeback, but if he is used as closer it decreases the depth of the Tigers’ middle relief.
As for the game, the Tigers lost to the Phillies 6-5, with all Philly’s runs coming in Nathan’s inning. Across the state in Kissimmee, Detroit also fell to the Houston Astros in extra innings.
The split squads will mold into one tomorrow as the Tigers take on the Atlanta Braves in Walt Disney World at 1:05. The game will be broadcast on WXYT 1270.