NATHAN FOREVER A THORN

By:  Kurt Snyder

The decision has been approaching. It was going to be a tough one. Would Joe Nathan replace Joakim Soria as closer when he returned from the DL? I never thought he would; however, I did think he would return to pitch.   But the worst happened this week as Nathan tore up his elbow yet again. And for the second time in his career, he will undergo Tommy John surgery.

It’s really quite amazing. Joe Nathan has been a thorn in the Tigers’ side since his days with the Twins. He was a dominant closer his whole career. He underwent his first TJS in 2010, missing all of that season and most of the next before regaining his role later in the year.

It made sense that the Twins would cut ties with Nathan after 2011. It also made sense that he would never be the same pitcher again, especially being in his late 30’s with a TJS under his belt. So they let him go and moved on.

When Joe left Minnesota for Texas, the Rangers were gambling on a comeback and boy did they get it.

Nathan came back with a vengeance, crawling all the way back from his 2010 surgery. In 2012, Nathan made his 5th All Star team, achieving a very tidy 2.80 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 37 saves for the Rangers.

It was everything Texas could have hoped for and more. But if that wasn’t enough, Nathan would follow it up with an encore performance for the ages the following year.

Joe staggered American League hitters boasting some of the best numbers of his storied career: a 1.39 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 43 more saves and a 6th All Star game appearance. Simply amazing.

Just when you thought he may slow down after leaving Minnesota, he gave Texas 2 of his best years.

It was the continuation of a career spent tormenting American League teams time and again. But, Nathan seemed to save most of his thorns for Detroit as the Tigers could never seem to muster much of anything against him. He dominated them for years.

But we finally got an opportunity to end all the pain Nathan had inflicted on us. The Tigers had a chance to turn the page and make him their own.

After his incredible season with Texas in the final year of his contract, it was clear that whoever needed a closer, Joe Nathan would be at or near the top of the list of candidates. He was certainly at the top of the list for Detroit as Nathan despite his age, clearly had plenty left in the tank. And if anyone needed a closer, it was the Tigers. And they won the Nathan sweepstakes.

But Joe saved his worst for Detroit. The timing could not have been worse to sign him. Who could have predicted such a quick downturn? Tiger fans endorsed the move. Why wouldn’t we? Those numbers from 2013 made your mouth water and Nathan joining Detroit certainly would shore up the most glaring hole in a weak bullpen.

But it just wasn’t meant to be I guess. Joe Nathan was never supposed to make the Tigers happy. He tormented us when he faced us and becoming a Tiger didn’t change a thing.

But, you can’t be mad at Joe Nathan. No one was more frustrated by his failings here than he was. This team offered him another opportunity to win a title, but we needed him to succeed to have a chance.

But Joe just couldn’t carry the load anymore. And the weight got so heavy that his previously repaired elbow tore apart again. It’s not how any player wants a career to end and Joe insists he plans to pitch again. But the odds are stacked against him like no other. Pitchers over 40 about to go under the knife for a second Tommy John surgery just don’t come back. Few even attempt it.

So how do the Tigers pick up the pieces? Well, Nathan’s injury opened the door for Joakim Soria to stake claim to a closer’s role that he is more than familiar with and more than capable of handling. It’s the rest of the pen that needs help. And we have the whole season to follow that story.

But the tale of Joe Nathan has come to an unfortunate end. His days as a Tiger are over. And one thing has become painfully clear. Joe spent an entire career making Detroit miserable. And he did it in every jersey; as a Twin, as a Ranger and even while wearing the Old English D.