Detroit Tigers: Have We Seen the Last of Joe Nathan?


In the midst of the Detroit Tigers’ sizzling start, Joe Nathan’s placement on the 15-day disabled list with a grade one strain of the right elbow has gone largely unnoticed. Nathan closed out the Tigers’ 4-0, Opening Day victory over the Minnesota Twins, retiring the only batter he faced. He was then placed on the DL the next day and no one cared.

Joakim Soria has since taken over as the Tigers’ closer and may not surrender the position when Nathan returns. Soria has closed out three straight games without too much of an adventure. He has recorded two saves, surrendering one run on two hits over that period of time, but he never looked like he was threatened.

Soria fits the category of “proven closer” through his career with the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers. When the Tigers acquired Soria, many believed he would unseat Nathan as the closer. He was misused much of last year, but is being managed better so far this season.

Many Tigers fans did not want Nathan on the Opening Day roster after well documented struggles last season, his tough Spring Training, and his relationship with fans and the media. If Joakim Soria continues to be successful in the closer’s role, the Tigers may not bring Nathan back from the DL.

Nathan has already said in the past that he will only pitch as the closer for the Tigers, and the Tigers will more likely than not bring him back after his injury and let him close. If everything goes right and Nathan comes back performing like he used to, the Tigers could go with their original plan of Soria in the eighth and Nathan in the ninth. If Nathan struggles like he did last year, it would not be surprising at all that Nathan would be released.

Nathan’s initial recovery time was “a few weeks” as both he and Ausmus put it. It will be interesting to watch not only how Soria performs in the ninth, but how the bullpen performs on the whole. If the Tigers can continue to be successful in the back end of the bullpen, the Joe Nathan era may be over in Detroit.

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