Sunday, October 28, 2012
Moment No. 10: Joe Nathan arrives
By Richard Durrett
Editor's Note: Before we shift our complete focus to the 2013 season, let's take a quick look back at 10 memorable moments -- games, signings, events -- from the 2012 campaign. By memorable, we mean both good and bad moments.
Memorable Moment No. 10: The Rangers get a new closer.
Joe Nathan converted 37 of 40 save opportunities -- including a club record 31 in a row at one point -- in his first season with the Rangers.
It was not the biggest off-season signing (that belonged to Yu Darvish) and it wasn't a long-term extension for a current Ranger (like deals signed with Derek Holland and Ian Kinsler), but the decision to lock up Joe Nathan to a two-year deal and name him the closer was a big one made months before spring training ever began.
The Rangers did not wait around for the relief pitching market to crystallize. They scouted Nathan as he returned from Tommy John surgery in 2011 and believed that his work after returning from a DL stint with a right flexor muscle strain was enough to warrant the two-year deal, and they had faith that he could return to the form that made him one of the top closers in the game with Minnesota.
Texas made a sizeable investment, signing Nathan to a two-year, $14.5 million contract with a club option for 2014 at $9 million. They made the deal in November and immediately told Neftali Feliz that he was moving into the rotation so he could get mentally prepared and be stretched out for spring training.
Admit it: After the first week of the 2012 season you were worried about Nathan, weren't you? I know I got a bunch of emails and there was a lot of conversation in our ESPN Dallas in-game chats about Nathan and whether he appeared fully healthy and ready. But after some struggles that first week Nathan became nearly automatic. He converted 37 of his 40 save opportunities, a 92.5 percent success rate that ranked third in the American League behind Tampa Bay's Fernando Rodney and Baltimore's Jim Johnson. At one point Nathan converted 31 consecutive saves, from April 15 to Sept. 12, setting a club record.
Nathan showed he was healthy and had his velocity back. He had hitters baffled by a nasty slider, too. Nathan experienced some fatigue late in the season and wondered if he had a bit of "dead arm" down the stretch. His blown save against the Angels on the final homestand was memorable, though it didn't make our top-10 list.
But without question, Nathan proved in 2012 that he's one of the top closers in the league and the position isn't one the Rangers will have to worry about filling this off-season. Nathan turns 38 on Nov. 22, but feels good and believes he could even pitch into his 40s as long as he's hungry and healthy.
Was there one particular save from Nathan that was memorable to you? How important a signing do you think he was -- and could be -- in the future?