Max Scherzer smelled the line of questioning as soon as he was asked whether Brad Ausmus had talked with him before telling him he was done after eight innings.
“I was done,” he said. “I mean, there’s nothing else to it. I was done. I’m not going to sit here and play second-guessing the manager. I was done.”
He had done his job to carry the game to the ninth inning with the Tigers ahead. From there, it was on to the bullpen. Every pitcher, he indicated, has their role, an answer that sounded Leyland-like. That’s how a pitching staff works.
“Whoever pitches needs to go out there and do their job,” Scherzer said when asked about what the bullpen faces if Joakim Soria is injured. “We prepare hard, we work hard. Whoever’s number is called needs to come in there and do their job. Whoever’s number is called, that’s your opportunity, and you have to go out there and do your job. Doesn’t matter who it is.”
No pitcher’s job, not even lefty Phil Coke’s job, has received as much scrutiny this year as Joe Nathan’s job, something he has pointed out from time to time this summer. He went from early-season struggles to a period of security to midseason panic to a month of relatively stability to two shaky days here.
“This isn’t a job where you’re going to be perfect all the time,” Nathan said. “I think sometimes look at it like we better be perfect. That’s not always realistic. I came out of the gate slower than I wanted to, so you want to go out and take care of business as much as you can, especially when we’re in August. But I also have to be true to myself and know that I’m throwing the ball well right now just keep the groove going.”
At the same time, he acknowledged, he can’t let a leadoff batter like Jose Reyes get on base in the ninth and run himself into position to score without a hit.
“I got myself in a position where you’ve got to be fine,” he said. “You’re looking for a ground ball.”
He has been a lot of things over the course of the season. He has not frequently been fine.
Nathan gave up the tying run, two hits and two walks before giving way to Joakim Soria with one out and the potential winning run at third base. Yet it might have been the out that doomed him.
Melky Cabrera’s fly ball to right was the most solidly-hit ball off Nathan, whose two singles were both ground balls. Cabrera’s fly out was deep, so much so that right fielder Torii Hunter didn’t even deke like he had a play at keeping Reyes from taking third base. He was from first to third without a base hit thanks to a stolen base and the fly out, and he left Nathan having to protect against the sac fly as the middle of the Blue Jays order.
Instead of needing a base hit to score Reyes, all Jose Bautista needed to do was loft the ball with a semblance of authority. So Ausmus opted to walk Bautista and try to set up the double play for Dioner Navarro, slow-footed but batting .285 off right-handed pitching.
Nathan needed a ground-ball double play. He got a ground ball. He did not get the ground ball.
“It’s the right play,” Nathan said of the walk. “You set up the double play, you’ve got the catcher coming up, so if you can get a ground ball to somebody you’ve got a good chance of turning it. Unfortunately it was about three or four feet too far to the hole and it got through there.”
It was Nathan’s first blown save since June 21, and his first run charged to him since July 19. However, he faced the kind of jam that might have yielded both Friday night if not for Rajai Davis’ game-ending, sliding catch. He has yielded multiple baserunners in three of four outings this month, including seven baserunners the past two nights. His first batters in an outing are 10-for-43 with two walks and 10 strikeouts against him, neither stingy nor disastrous.
“I felt good, very confident going out there,” Nathan said. “I’ve been able to kind of take myself out of situations, not so much worry about the score and just go out and pitch. I felt like I did that today. I was in a tight spot with very good hitters, but again, I pitched my game.”
Asked about Nathan’s status, Ausmus said, “Joe’s the closer. Recently he’s done very well closing games for us.”
If Soria is out for any length of time, the question is moot. Even if he isn’t, a closer change probably isn’t going to happen. Whether Ausmus stretches his starters further might be another question, though he had no question about his decision on that Saturday.
“Max is very aware of what his pitch count is and how he feels and what he has left,” Ausmus said. “He’s very honest with me and with Jeff Jones with how he’s doing physically. We’ve seen him pitch. We have a couple guys on our staff you can tell when they really kind of empty the tank, and the way they pitch speaks more than what they actually say.”