Game 69: When the Tigers had a closer again

Admit it, your stomach churned when the Tigers couldn’t drive in Bryan Holaday from third base with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning Thursday. Instead of giving Joe Nathan an insurance run to work with against the red-hot Royals, Detroit handed its beleaguered closer a one-run lead to close out against KC’s fourth, fifth and sixth hitters in the bottom of the ninth.

Then Joe Nathan looked like the old Joe Nathan again.

“Well, we figured something out the last couple of days,” Nathan said afterwards. “We’ve been working on it in the bullpen, side sessions. Yesterday was a really good time to work on it, because it was with some adrenaline, because I got up in a one-run game, with a chance to go in.”

He didn’t get in, because the Tigers couldn’t put a run across. He still got to throw.

“Always helps to have some energy when you’re working on something that’s … maybe not new, but trying to get back to the form it was.”

It was his old arm slot, he said, lower than it has been this year. He adjusted that, worked to keep his head in line with his delivery, focused on location, then stopped focusing on location. The result was some pretty good stuff.

“Obviously, the one thing you worry about when you work on mechanics, is location,” Nathan said. “You’re sitting there, working on mechanics, working on mechanics, and you do something that feels so strange, sometimes you get away from going out and actually competing. So when I got out on the mound today, I had a little bit of extra focus on, all right, be ready to compete. It’s not about mechanics now, it’s about getting after it.

“Fortunately, everything came out very natural. Location wasn’t an issue at all. Actually helped my location.”

After getting just a dozen swings and misses out of 220 pitches over a month-long stretch, Nathan’s first pitch drew a swing and miss from Billy Butler on a slow breaking ball. After back-to-back fastballs out of the strike zone put him behind, Nathan nailed the outside corner with consecutive pitches — the first an 87 mph slider, the second a 94 mph fastball.

Down went Butler, 6-for-13 lifetime against him before that strikeout.

“We’ve missed Joe. We wanted him back to where he was,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “That looked like him.”

The Royals weren’t arguing.

“That looked like the Joe Nathan I’ve faced for years,” Butler said, “all those times with the Twins and then with Texas — the one with a few hundred saves and all those All-Star Games. He’s had some tough moments in his career, but that looked like the same guy today.”

From there, Nathan got a life. He put Salvador Perez in an 0-2 count and didn’t let him out of it, forcing him to foul off a slider diving outside and a high fastball before dropping a curveball on him. Perez got a piece of it, but right into catcher Bryan Holaday’s mitt.

With that, Nathan had just his third multi-strikeout performance of the season. Once Lorenzo Cain swung and missed at back-to-back sliders off the plate, Nathan had struck out side for the first time since Aug. 20 of last season. He also had his first save since May 29, and his first 1-2-3 inning for a save since May 27, both in Oakland.

“I’m not saying this one outing is ‘Oh, I’m back …’ That’s not it at all,” Nathan said. We’ve got 3 1/2 months to go. It’s a grind every day, and it’s a humbling sport. So if you think you got it, the next day, it’s going to turn around and kick you in the butt, and you won’t think you got it.

“Right now, it’s a positive. I think we found an arm slot that works. I got more whip on my pitches, I think. From what everyone was telling me, it was coming out a lot harder, a lot crisper. The breaking balls were a lot sharper. But for me, the most important thing was, I worked ahead in the count, and I was able to put guys away, which is the biggest sign for me.”

It’s a huge sign for the Tigers, whose bullpen gets a little more stable if Nathan can run with this form. They still need more depth, maybe get one more reliever going to mix into the seventh and eighth innings. If Nathan can own the ninth again, it makes the bridge more stable.

14 Comments

Glad he found it for today, but I won’t be convinced until I see it consistent for a while, but I’ll take what I can get from the team as a whole right now.

He looked good today . But yes the feeling was here we go again now what is going to happen . Hope they are ready for the Tribe this weekend.. This is another series that will not easy.

Glad for him and mostly for Tiger fandom……not to mention my mental stability. Let’s hope it’s for keeps.

Let’s hope this team hit a “bottom” this week, falling out of 1st place and both JV and Max getting shelled back to back. Then we get two “gems from Smyly and Sanchez and pull 1 out of 4 games against a hot Royals team. Come on guys, let’s get a streak going on the “W” side of the column against the Tribe!

Jason knows us so well! Yes, my stomach churned The dreaded ending and wondering how it was going to end, wanting it to go well…..and it did!

the “free press” picked up the “hardball talk” story about avila’s signaling the pitches.
certainly would explain why both max & justin were so badly walloped like they were. Q: would kansas city stealing signs be “big time cheating” like steroid use, or is it more like a pine tar type offense?

The “unwritten rules” allow for sign stealing and you have to guard against it. It does go over the line if electronic devices or even binoculars are used, and that includes signaling pitches from a scoreboard light, etc.

A lot of teams do it. Players will say it’s up to teams to mix up their signs better and figure out when they’re tipping.

so is JD martinez for real? I mean his bat of course.

This is good and positive . Where does Dirks go when he returns ??

thnx rich
and very interesting point you made yesterday about the repercussions of this sort of thing being that pitchers spend all this effort trying to adjust when actually delivery was fine. yipes.

I think they will bring Dirks along slowly. If JD continues to hit (obviously not at this current pace) he simply stays. Kelly is the natural victim in this scenario. Versatility or not.

when we get dirks back – do you think he’ll be any good? I think hanrahan will be a disaster.

Some “experts” are suggesting JV has thrown too many pitches????
I wonder if they have ever heard of Walter Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson?

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