OAKLAND, Calif. — Perhaps lost amid the recent struggles of the Texas Rangers'
hitters and their starting pitchers, Joe Nathan has quietly put together an outstanding season, regaining the form he had before Tommy John surgery cost him all of 2010.
Nathan, who has retired 27 of the last 31 batters he’s faced, has 12 saves and a 1.90 ERA. He’s recorded 28 strikeouts with only two walks. He hasn’t blown a save in eight weeks, converting 10 in a row with an 0.46 ERA in that span.
He is not the pitcher who had a 4.84 ERA last year in Minnesota, his first year back from surgery.
“He’s the Joe Nathan I saw in Minnesota, that I hated to see come into the game,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said.
That’s where Washington isn’t quite right, though. Nathan is not quite the same guy. Nathan said that while he was bouncing back from surgery in 2011, he added to his repertoire.
“Last year really gave me more confidence in my breaking pitches, and a lot more confidence in my changeup,” Nathan said. “My fastball wasn’t that good last year, so in the second half, I was getting guys out with a lot of breaking pitches.”
According to figures at FanGraphs, Nathan threw his curve ball 19 percent of the time last year, and he’s thrown it 13 percent this year. Prior to his surgery, he hadn’t thrown his curve more than 10 percent in any full season. Nathan said he’s more comfortable with his changeup, although it’s still not a primary weapon. He at least throws it in warmups, which he didn’t do before.
“That’s the biggest thing I got from this injury -- confidence in all four pitches,” Nathan said. “The year before, I might go out with two or three. Now, I’m confident in throwing them all.”
This isn’t the first time Nathan has emerged from injury with a new wrinkle.
When he came up with the Giants, he had been a mediocre starter in 1999 and 2000, but then he missed the 2001 season with a shoulder injury and spent almost all of 2002 in the minors trying to get back.
While he was out, he learned a slider.
Starting in 2003, Nathan became one of baseball’s best relievers.
“I always try to take the good things from the negatives,” Nathan said. “I hope I learned a lot from this injury.”