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Joe Nathan is showing major signs of decline at age 39

Jun 4, 2014, 12:48 PM EDT

Joe Nathan Tigers AP

Joe Nathan has been one of the best closers in baseball for a decade, saving 354 games with a 2.85 ERA, but at age 39 he’s finally showing signs of decline in his first season with the Tigers.

Nathan saved 43 games with a 1.39 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 65 innings for the Rangers last season, which convinced the Tigers to give him a two-year, $20 million contract as a free agent, but now he’s got a 6.86 ERA with four blown saves and two losses.

Nathan continues to miss a fair number of bats with 20 strikeouts in 21 innings, but he’s walked 11 batters and served up four homers. And perhaps most worrisome is that his average fastball velocity is down to 91.4 miles per hour compared to 94.0 mph in 2012 and 92.2 mph last season.

Predictably, the struggling closer told Jason Beck of that he’s confident about turning things around:

This isn’t the first time I’ve gone through a funk and come out the other end. I’ve dealt with two injuries. I’ve pitched much worse than this, trust me. I’ve pitched much worse than this in Triple-A, got sent down to Double-A, got my butt back to the big leagues. I think having dealt with that, having–not the confidence, but at least the experience of knowing I can come back through this stuff definitely helps.

He’s right about coming back from a lot in his career, including Tommy John surgery in 2010 at age 35, but unfortunately Father Time remains undefeated and Nathan’s struggles appear to be more than simply bad luck or a rough patch. As a Twins fan who got to see Nathan dominate for a half-dozen years I’d love to be wrong, though.

  1. icanspeel - Jun 4, 2014 at 12:53 PM

    Sounds like Tigers may be shopping around for some bullpen help.

    • proudlycanadian - Jun 4, 2014 at 1:16 PM

      They have been looking with limited success for a few years..

    • stabonerichard - Jun 4, 2014 at 3:04 PM

      Papa Grande!!

      • kindasporty - Jun 4, 2014 at 7:43 PM

        That’s not even funny.

    • gloccamorra - Jun 6, 2014 at 12:40 AM

      They could have had Huston Street in exchange for Porcello but wouldn’t pull the trigger.

  2. proudlycanadian - Jun 4, 2014 at 1:18 PM

    Like another 39 year old, who plays for the Yankees, this is probably his last season.

  3. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jun 4, 2014 at 1:22 PM

    Meanwhile, Benoit has a 1.75 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 30Ks in 25.2 innings.

    How’s Hanrahan doing with his rehab?

  4. andreweac - Jun 4, 2014 at 1:23 PM

    Dude evidently lost the will to win. Only people who believe in evolution and that the Earth is round think its “Father Time”.

  5. wilmyers09 - Jun 4, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    same thing with balfour also

  6. teamobijuan - Jun 4, 2014 at 1:59 PM

    They may have won the Kinsler/Fielder trade, but they lost this one!

    • billyboots - Jun 5, 2014 at 1:38 PM

      Did they trade for Nathan? I must have missed that.

  7. mazblast - Jun 4, 2014 at 2:48 PM

    He’ll be his old dominant self if I can find someone to take him in trade in the one fantasy league in which I own him. It’s a talent I have.

    • professor30 - Jun 4, 2014 at 3:03 PM

      I’ve got the same gift, anybody I drop or trade blows up for the rest of the season. Also a Joe Nathan owner.

  8. bisonaudit - Jun 4, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    Maybe he stopped loading up the ball after what happened earlier in the year with Pineda.

  9. TBaySlim - Jun 4, 2014 at 4:02 PM

    I always thought Joe was a bit overated, got alot of saves vs bad tigers, royals and indians teams of the early 2000’s. Melted many times under pressure/crucial spots. Playoff E.R.A is north of 7.00 for his career. granted he does have 350 plus saves but like i said i always thought he was a bit overated and when the tigers signed him for 2 years 20 mil, i likend that signing to the brewers signing an old washed up Eric Gagne to a 1 yr/10 mill contract and he pitched like he had 0 gas left in the tank. seems to be happening a bit here with nathan as well

  10. jollyjoker2 - Jun 4, 2014 at 9:54 PM

    Nathan always always always starts the season slow. Been that way for years. He will be more than fine.

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