July 20th, 2014
Hours after Joe Nathan’s three-run ninth inning Saturday night, he had a clean ninth inning with a four-run lead Sunday afternoon. His postgame interview with reporters seemingly lasted longer than his inning Sunday.
He didn’t want to talk about Saturday’s loss, though he referenced what went wrong to get it out of the way.
He understands fan frustration, he says, though he struggles to understand the emotional, game-to-game roller-coaster that goes with it. He’s trying to do his part to even it out, hoping fans will do the same on their end.
“I think the tough part for that is: When things go bad, they’re all over you. When things go well, they cheer,” he said. “Do we always want the fans supporting us? Yes, and I think they do here. And I think they’re so into it and want to win so bad. But as bad as they want to win, we want to win 100 percent more than they do. I understand their frustration.
“All I can do is say I’m busting my butt to get better every day and I’m grinding away every day and I’m in the gym every day. When things don’t go as well, I go out and beat my legs up running around the field so I’m stronger for the next day.”
He is not quite as preoccupied by mechanics at this point. He continues to work off of the lower arm angle he put into practice last month, but it’s not a cure-all. It’s a route to get where he wants with his pitches.
“I know my stuff’s better,” he said. “For me now, it’s a matter of getting more and more comfortable. Working ahead is always key. When I’m out there and I’m throwing strike one, it seems to be results-wise and putting hitters into defensive modes is much better when I’m getting strikes. But that’s the same with every pitcher. For me, I think the mechanical thing was more getting myself confidence. I’ve really noticed a difference with the slider especially. Earlier in the year, I was fighting to get it down in the zone and velocity-wise, it was more 84-85. Now it’s been easier to get it down in the zone and I’m noticing 87-88-89 at times. …
“It’s hard to work on stuff in the game regardless. It’s extremely hard when you have a week of downtime. As much as you need the four days, the thing you’re worried about the most is getting too much time off. I’m not doing anything major. It’s been easier for me, and I think that’s why, even if I do go out there and have a bad game like yesterday, you can’t always pay attention to results. You’ve just got to pay attention to how your stuff’s coming out and the swings you’re getting from hitters. I know I’m getting a lot more swings and misses in the last 10 or 15 outings since I made that adjustment.”
He’s definitely getting more of those than he was early in the year. Even during Saturday’s debacle, two of his three outs came on strikeouts. He had one strikeout and two swings and misses out of nine pitches Sunday, both to Saturday night Indians hero Chris Dickerson.
One was off the slider, the other off a 91 mph fastball.
“I feel like my stuff is there a lot of times,” he said. “Is it a work in progress? I hope not. I hope it clicks and like today, everything goes smooth from here on out. But it’s baseball. That won’t happen. I am still that same guy and hopefully it works out that we get to the playoffs and I’m pitching my best then.”
Every indication so far has been that the Tigers will give him the chance to close if they get there. They have not been looking for a pure closer.
“I’m way too old to worry about that stuff,” Nathan said. “I’ve done too much in this game, too much in my career. I think it’d be unfair to myself to beat myself up over that kind of stuff after all the things I’ve been through in my career. That’s part of the game, and I know stuff’s going to be talked about, but that’s not for me to worry about.”
Victor Martinez is feeling healthy enough to handle first base in the series finale, a good test for him ahead of the upcoming Interleague series at Arizona. If Martinez can handle first base without much risk to his back, then don’t be surprised if Miguel Cabrera makes a start at third base, according to manager Brad Ausmus. Andrew Romine, meanwhile, gets a start at shortstop.
On the Cleveland side, the Indians threw some extra right-handed hitters against Drew Smyly given the splits, but they can only go so far with that. Several left-handed hitters remain to face a pitcher that has allowed a .315 average and .909 OPS against right-handed batters, compared with .157/.436 from lefties. Ryan Raburn is batting fifth, though, so there’s that.
TIGERS (career numbers off Josh Tomlin)
- Austin Jackson, CF (5-for-14, 2 doubles, triple, HR, 2 K’s)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-6, 2 doubles, walk)
- Miguel Cabrera, DH (4-for-7, double, HR, 3 walks)
- Victor Martinez, 1B (0-for-7, 3 walks, K)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (1-for-3, double, walk, K)
- Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-8, double, 2 walks, K)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (2-for-5, 2 doubles, 2 K’s)
- Alex Avila, C (2-for-10, 2 HR, 4 K’s)
- Andrew Romine, SS (0-for-2, K)
P: Drew Smyly
INDIANS (career numbers off Drew Smyly)
- Jason Kipnis, 2B (0-for-10, 6 K’s)
- Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (4-for-10, triple, 2 K’s)
- Michael Brantley, CF (5-for-10, 2 doubles, triple, 2 walks)
- Carlos Santana, 1B (3-for-10, 2 doubles, 3 walks, 2 K’s)
- Ryan Raburn, LF (1-for-4, 3 walks)
- Nick Swisher, DH (3-for-9, HR, walk, K)
- Yan Gomes, C (2-for-5, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
- David Murphy, RF (0-for-4)
- Mike Aviles, 3B (1-for-9, double, 2 K’s)
P: Josh Tomlin
The price of relief pitching likely just went up on the trade market. Whether the level of disorder in the Tigers bullpen did is another matter.
While Joe Nathan remains the Tigers closer, he was not necessarily the automatic choice to pitch the ninth inning. Brad Ausmus said after Nathan’s three-run ninth that he wanted to keep Joba Chamberlain in the game for the ninth inning (he used just six pitches in the eighth) until his ankle became an inning.
“We were going to send him back out there,” Ausmus said. “Ankle was bothering him. I don’t expect it to be an issue tomorrow. We were considering that.”
It’s an either-or situation with a tie game in the ninth inning, especially since neither had pitched since last weekend. With no save situation, there’s no reason to save the closer. If the setup man is the better pitcher, though, there’s nothing requiring the closer, either.
Whether the lack of work left Nathan rusty, the results weren’t pretty.
“I don’t know if it was the layoff or what,” Ausmus said. “He seemed to have trouble with his command a little bit. Fastball kept riding. Two-seamer kept riding quite a bit away from lefties and into righties.”
Said catcher Alex Avila: “His sinker was really moving a lot, probably a lot more than normal, and he was having a tough time commanding it. That’s been a big pitch for him lately. It’s been working really well. He hasn’t pitched in a while, and today you could just tell he didn’t have a real good feel for it.”
As for Chamberlain closing, Ausmus said, “I haven’t considered that at this point. … There’s a possibility that I could reach the point sometime. I’m not near that point. I’ll let you know when I am.”
Whether Nathan was closing would not have had an impact on Saturday night’s loss. Whether Nathan’s struggles has an impact on the Tigers’ bullpen search remains to be seen.