For Joe Nathan, decision to join Rangers was 'kind of a no-brainer'
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins all-time career saves leader felt a little weird walking into the visitors' clubhouse at Target Field on Friday.
"Felt like I was walking in the wrong doors," said Joe Nathan, now the closer for the Texas Rangers, who are in town this weekend for a three-game series.
Nathan, who tallied 260 saves in seven seasons with the Twins, signed a $14.75 million contract with Texas this offseason. Prior to team batting practice, Nathan walked down the hallway to his old clubhouse to catch up with former teammates and staff members.
Nathan didn't immediately close the door on returning to Minnesota when he hit free agency last October. But when the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers picked up the phone, his decision became much easier.
"When Texas called, it definitely made it easier knowing it was Texas for sure," Nathan said. "But it's never easy leaving an organization that you've been with for a while. You always want to weigh the factors, but I think that team, the Twins, have definitely done a little bit of a makeover. There's not a whole lot of faces that when I first came that are there so that made it a little bit easier. The coaching staff is the same pretty much and Morneau and Mauer, guys like Span and Perkins are the guys that have been around. The rest is pretty new. That made it a little easier.
"But like I said, when Texas called, to have that opportunity, was kind of a no-brainer to see if we could pursue something and get something done."
Nathan said in a text message this offseason that his top priority was finding a team that would win regularly. The Twins, coming off a 99-loss season, were certainly no sure thing in that department.
And at age 37, his World Series clock is ticking.
"I think I'm at a point in my career where I have one thing on my mind and that's postseason," Nathan said. "That's getting to where these guys have been the last two years. I've been very fortunate in this game to have seen and done a lot of things. But the one thing that I wanted the most has eluded me.
"Obviously there's no guarantees in this game. All you can do is get with a club that you think has a wonderful opportunity to get back there and hope for the best."
The Rangers, more than any team in baseball, know there are no guarantees.
Texas was one strike away from a World Series title in two different innings -- with two-run leads in both cases -- against the St. Louis Cardinals last year. Nathan was signed, in large part, to prevent that from happening again, should the Rangers advance that far for a third straight season.
In four outings so far this year, Nathan has already taken two losses, including a blown save against the Seattle Mariners in his last outing. In four innings he has allowed four earned runs on five hits with five strikeouts and no walks.
His manager, Ron Washington, put to rest any discussion of Nathan losing his job as closer earlier this week. And despite a rocky start, Nathan says his arm feels fantastic.
"I think now I'm just trying to get back to where I was before surgery because I feel so good now," Nathan said. "It's kind of trying to hone everything in and control everything from getting too hyped and too strong and elevating pitches. That's what I've noticed when I get in trouble now it's because I feel too strong out there. ...
"It wasn't a matter of being tired when I'm out there. The one time I gave up a home run to (White Sox outfielder Alex) Rios was a fastball that was up. But it was also a pitch that I thought he wouldn't be looking for. That had nothing to do with being tired. That was actually probably one of the best outings I've thrown this year as far as location and stuff like that."
In his first two months back from Tommy John surgery last year, Nathan struggled mightily. His velocity was down, his slider lacked bite, and he was eventually placed on the disabled list at the end of May to allow trainers to work on the muscles in his forearm and elbow.
"I didn't realize how tight everything was when I was just going out and grinding," Nathan said last July. "I just figured that's what I was going to have to go through, and until I took that time off and got some work done on it I didn't realize how bad my forearm was and how much work it needed. ... About a week into it I just really noticed a difference how much more loose it was. ... Sure enough, boom, my scar tissue just basically popped and broke up."
Even though Nathan's last season with the Twins came at perhaps the franchise's lowest -- or most disappointing -- time, he said he takes mostly positive memories.
"There's so much that I've learned from this coaching staff, from my former teammates, friends that I'll have for the rest of my life. They gave me a wonderful opportunity back in 2004. They basically got my career to where I am now. I have nothing but good thoughts when I think about Minnesota, when I think about this stadium, the Dome and the fans here. A lot of people treated me and my family very well while we were here and I appreciate all of it."