SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Joe Nathan had a feeling he threw well in his first Cactus League appearance with the Texas Rangers. He didn't know precisely how well until he returned to the dugout and was told that his fastball topped out at 94 mph on the ballpark radar gun. That's rarefied air for a guy who is more accustomed to clocking in at 89-91 mph in spring training.
"This is the best I've felt in a long time,'' Nathan said. "It's hard not to be excited about where I am right now.''
Nathan did everything but work up a sweat in Thursday's 6-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Surprise Stadium. He dispatched with Ozzie Martinez, Jared Mitchell and Jim Gallagher on a mere seven pitches, yet still managed to trot out his two-seam and four-seam fastballs and his slider. He handled a comebacker by Martinez for the first out, and sprinted to the bag in plenty of time to beat Gallagher for the final out of the inning. He looked awfully spry for a 37-year-old.
Nathan is almost two years removed from Tommy John surgery, so he has reason to expect that his stuff will be better in Texas than it was last year in Minnesota. After making four All-Star teams and averaging 41 saves a year for the Twins from 2004 through 2009, Nathan missed the entire 2010 season and failed to perform to his usual standards in a hybrid setup-closer role last year.
That didn't prevent the Rangers from signing him to a two-year, guaranteed $14.5 million deal with a club option for 2014. Nathan's deal immediately paved the way for Neftali Feliz to move from the back end of the bullpen to the Rangers rotation.
Manager Ron Washington said he expects Nathan to get eight or nine appearances in Arizona in preparation for the season opener. As an 11-year veteran, Nathan will have the latitude to proceed at his own pace.
"Joe Nathan is a pro,'' Washington said. "What you saw today is what you're going to see every time he takes the ball. I know Joe. From the way he carries himself, and from what I've seen since he got here this spring, Joe Nathan is back.''