DETROIT--Joe Nathan isn't blaming anyone for Tuesday's lack of performance. He knows how it looks. After comments he made last week in Oakland which sounded as if he'd thrown third baseman Nick Castellanos under the bus, and dodging reporters following last Thursday's loss, Nathan had plenty to say.
"No excuses, I've got to be better," Nathan said. "I got a loss for this team and that's the biggest disappointment." (h/t Randy Castro, MI Prep Zone). The Tigers desperately needed their closer to come through for them but once again Nathan couldn't get it done.
Nathan was taken out of the game after only 1/3 of an inning and responsible for four of the five runs which scored in the ninth. He was not given a supportive departure. Fans at Comerica Park were very vocal with their feelings of Nathan's latest outing, and booed him liberally as he left the field. Not that it mattered one bit to him.
"Trust me, I don't give a (expletive) about that. Pardon my French. They can boo me all they want," Nathan said. "I am my biggest critic. No one will put myself down more than I do. So as much as they feel like they're being tough on me, I'm way tougher on myself."
Oddly enough, as tough as this last week has been, Nathan said that physically this is the best he's felt all season which is why he's particularly frustrated by the results; or rather the lack of them. It's left him wondering what else he has to do at this point. "You hope. You hope. And then you start to go, ‘What is going on right now with me?' Do I need to go to church more, say more prayers? What do I need to do?'"
Brad Ausmus was asked after the game if he would ever take Nathan out of the closer's role for his own good, to allow him to work on whatever has gone awry. "I certainly wouldn't answer that right now, I would talk to Joe before I made that public knowledge," Ausmus said without going into great detail. "Joe's been very good for a very long time and I expect him to be good for the Tigers. He expects himself to be good, but even the best have rough times."
It's happened before. Nathan took himself out of the closing role during a stretch when he was with the Minnesota Twins. But when the question was presented on whether he would take himself out this time around the answer was a firm no. "Not at all. Not at all. I'm throwing the ball way too well," Nathan said.
"Today was, like I said, was one of those days where baseball is a tough game, and a funny game. Sometimes you give up three bullets and they're all at somebody...and then you go out and have an outing like tonight where it didn't seem like anyone squared the ball up. You look up and you've pitched a third of an inning and four runs have come in. The results didn't match the way I threw the ball."
Nathan said he's reached the point in his career where a bad stretch doesn't get to him mentally, but the frustration is still very much there. "Yeah, it's a frustrating feeling. You want to feel like...I felt like I...I don't know. If you guys got anything for me, bring it on, because today was one of those ones where I was definitely at a loss for words," Nathan said.
"For me, I was out there fighting myself a lot, hoping things aren't going to go south on me. But I still made good pitches. It's a grind, it's tough mentally. Obviously this isn't the first time I've gone through a funk and come out the other end."
In the end it Nathan feels that it doesn't matter what his ERA is as long as the end result is a World Series appearance, and hopefully a win. "I can care less if I go out there with an 18 ERA, as long as at the end of the day, we go to the playoffs, and we got a chance to go to the World Series."
Sometimes the only thing to do is drive on and get through the rough patch, no matter how ugly it is. Even seasoned veterans, the best in the game, go through it. "I've dealt with two injuries, I've pitched much worse than this, trust me," Nathan said.
"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."
Nathan may be a veteran closer but says it's still nice to have a support system where he can lean on Tigers' pitching coach Jeff Jones. Especially when everyone else expects him "to figure it out" on his own. Nathan said that Jones' words of encouragement helped to put things into perspective.