When Joe Nathan signed a two-year deal during the offseason, the Tigers and many of their fans thought they were getting stability in the backend of an otherwise questionable bullpen. After all, despite nearing 40 years old, Nathan had saved 80 games over his previous two seasons with an ERA just over 2.00 and a WHIP under 1.00.
Well, Nathan has blown two of his first three save opportunities, including a three-run unraveling on Wednesday night (early Thursday) at Dodger Stadium, and he gave up a run in his only save. The last time Nathan gave up at least one run in three straight appearances was in May-June of his below-average 2011 campaign (4.84 ERA, 1.16 WHIP). He went through similar stretches in 2004 and 2005, but that’s the extent of the three-game blips throughout his career as a reliever.
Before his blown save in LA, Nathan came out and said that he’s been dealing with a bit of a ‘dead arm.’
“I think I’m still at a case of maybe some dead arm going right now. Usually that happens to the middle or later part of spring and hopefully you get through it. But mine is going more into the season and I’m still fine tuning things but fortunately it hasn’t hurt us too much and my tougher outings still resulted in wins for us. So (I’m) very happy about that and I just look to continue to improve for this ball club and be as consistent as I can.”
He’s not kidding about his tougher outings still resulting in wins for the club. The Tigers are 4-0 when he pitches. Nathan himself, 12.27 ERA and all, has picked up two wins after leaving a mess, which is tied for the league lead and is more wins than the team’s entire starting rotation. (If that isn’t an indication that the stat is meaningless…)
Dead arm could certainly explain why Nathan’s fastball is down almost four miles per hour from his career average and exactly two miles per hour from last year’s average. His stuff looks flat and age isn’t on his side, but assuming there isn’t something bigger going on, Nathan plans to pitch through it.
The Tigers and their fans, meanwhile, will continue to pray through it.