Nathan: I understand their frustration
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.”