Joe Nathan says command improving

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Texas Rangers closer Joe Nathan actually went to the Surprise Stadium mound Thursday with plenty of confidence.

That might seem odd, considering he had given up three runs on three hits in his last Cactus League inning, against the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday.

"But I took away some things from that outing," Nathan said. "My command was better and the ball was coming out of my hands the way I wanted. Sometimes you can do that and you still get hit. But I knew I was making progress."

So his goal Thursday: Keep improving command of the fastball.

"I got to the mound and it was in pretty bad shape," Nathan said. "There was a pretty big hole where my landing foot was and I noticed that actually meant my curve ball wasn't really working the way I wanted. But the slider was good, so I went with that. The biggest thing for me is pitching downhill and that was my focus."

Nathan kept the ball down, facing minor leaguers and reserves for the Chicago Cubs. That included switch-hitting Matt Tolbert, who was a teammate of Nathan's in Minnesota. Nathan struck him out.

"I'm sure I'll be getting a text about that," Nathan said.

Nathan's results haven't been good this spring. He had an 18.00 ERA in Cactus League games (three innings) before Thursday. But he did pitch a scoreless inning in a minor league game last week and has seen his command improve, something he figured would happen as the season got closer.

"I've got more innings out here and I'll continue to work on it," Nathan said. "I feel good and the last two times, even though the results weren't there Monday, I've thrown to my spots and had good pitches. My two-seamer, four-seamer and slider have all worked pretty well."

Nathan will likely get more chances to throw in the ninth inning, simulating when he's going to be needed in the regular season. Of course, the Rangers can't control the score as he builds arm strength. He came in with his club down 11-4 Thursday, but he'll continue to pitch every few days and eventually back-to-back so that he's fully ready for the season.