Struggling Nathan cedes Twins' closer job to Capps

April 18, 2011|By La Velle E. Neal III | Star Tribune

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — After blowing two saves during a four-game weekend series against Tampa Bay, Joe Nathan realized he was hurting the Twins and agreed to step away from the closer's job for now.

"I feel like my consistency right now just isn't where I need it to be,'' he said. "Until I start getting that back -- and I know I will at some time -- I don't want to put this team at any risk and cost them ballgames right now.

"We're all scuffling right now. The games that we do have, I'd like to get those taken care of and finished up."

Nathan approached manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson after Saturday's 4-3 loss in which he gave up a tying homer to Ben Zobrist and then walked two batters. It was the first time Nahtan had blown consecutive save opportunities since 2008.

The three agreed that Nathan should work in less stressful situations while Matt Capps takes over as closer. Jim Hoey was called up from Class AAA Rochester to take a setup role.

"Andy and I had been talking about it," Gardenhire said. "[Nathan] came in and Andy seized the moment and wanted to talk about it, too, so we all sat down and he had his feelings, then I told him what I thought also, and Andy did, too.

"He wants to win, and he also understands he's scuffling along trying to figure what he can and can't do. So it is a good thing that we get it straightened out and go from there."

Nathan, 36, had Tommy John elbow surgery in March 2010 and was a man on a mission as he stuck to his rehabilitation and reported to camp in shape and throwing 90 to 91 miles per hour. But he's 0-1 with an 8.44 ERA and three saves in five opportunities. He's given up six hits and walked five in 5 1/3 innings.

He had to push his pride to the side.

"It was very difficult," he said. "As a competitor and athlete, you want to be the guy to get through it and go out and compete. At the same time, we always say around here, team first. I don't want to be the one to keep putting us in a hole. I don't want to be the one digging us deeper and deeper.

"When I do start getting it back, the confidence will be better and then we can make an adjustment from there and we can get back to where we need to be."

The Twins traded top catching prospect Wilson Ramos -- who's batting .480 in nine games with Washington -- for Capps last July to have a backup plan in case Nathan struggled. The club was willing to pay Capps $7.15 million this season to make sure the ninth inning was covered.

After blowing a save on Thursday and giving up a run on Saturday, Capps earned the save on Sunday.

"I've kind of got mixed emotions about it," he said of his return to closing duty. "It's something I want to do. It is something I enjoy doing. Not the way you wanted it to happen."

Anderson has looked at video of Nathan's outings from 2009 and sees the same delivery but some inconsistencies. Anderson believes Nathan needs time to clear that final hurdle to be himself again.

"Joe knows his first year back, the biggest thing is getting himself righted for his career," Anderson said. "Is he going to be closing by the end of this year? I don't know. It's just a matter of this year, just getting him back pitching and progressing with it."

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