Joe Nathan's career came full circle in 2016, finishing the year with the team that drafted him back in 1995 -- the Giants -- after being released by the Cubs midseason. The 42-year-old was used sparingly with both clubs, tossing just 4.1 innings despite not allowing an earned run. While Nathan is a shell of his former dominant self, the grizzled vet's fastball was still sitting in the low 90s. He enters 2017 with the Nationals after signing a minor league deal with them, and given their unsettled bullpen situation, it's not unrealistic to think that he could work his way into a decent role in the majors if he can stay healthy during spring training.
Nathan has a clause in his deal with the Nationals that allows him to opt out Friday, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports. He pitched on back-to-back days for the first time this spring Wednesday and Thursday, and while the 42-year-old hasn't looked bad so far (8:3 K:BB in 10.2 innings), the Nats already seemingly have seven relievers locked into spots after the late signing of Joe Blanton. If Nathan does opt out, he may have done enough to earn a look from another team in need of some veteran savvy in the middle innings.
Nathan's odds of winning a spot in the Nationals' bullpen may have taken a hit after the team signed Joe Blanton, The Washington Post reports. Assuming the team carries seven relievers, five of those spots will be taken up by Blanton, Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen, Sammy Solis and Oliver Perez. A sixth spot will go to a long reliever, which leaves Nathan competing with younger fireballers like Koda Glover and Enny Romero for the final opening. A good spring could still earn Nathan a look from another team in need of bullpen help, but his chances of pitching for Washington, much less working his way into the mix at closer, appear to be growing dimmer.
Nathan hit 92 mph on the stadium radar gun during a shutout inning of work in Saturday's Grapefruit League opener against the Mets, The Washington Post reports. "I'll tell you, it felt very easy today," Nathan said. "I'm surprised that it got there. Normally, for me, spring has always been velocity down, even when I was a mid-to-upper [90s] guy. I always threw low 90s in the spring, so for me to go out and be 91, 92 for a first outing, and I felt very easy out there. I didn't feel like I was putting too much effort into pitches. I felt very smooth, very effortless, I would say." He gave up a leadoff single to Rene Rivera, but escaped facing the minimum number of batters thanks to a double play. If those velocity readings were accurate, they represent a big step forward for Nathan in his quest to secure a spot in the Nationals' bullpen, after he averaged a career-low 91.2 mph on his fastball last season in a handful of innings after recovering from his second Tommy John surgery. There's still a long way to go, but Saturday's performance was definitely an encouraging one for the 42-year-old.
Nathan threw about 20 pitches in a bullpen session Monday and came away feeling great, Glenn Sattell of MLB.com reports. "Pretty easy day, just made sure my stuff was kind of in the zone when I wanted to," Nathan said. "For the most part, I threw strikes; didn't throw too many breaking balls. But mixed in sinkers, change." The 42-year-old is trying to resume his career after Tommy John surgery in April of 2015, and his lengthy resume makes him an intriguing wild card in a bullpen that currently lacks an established closer. The Nats have a history of adding veteran arms off the scrap heap every spring, so if Nathan can show he has something left, his chances of breaking camp on the 25-man roster might be better than you'd think. Whether that translates into saves and fantasy value, though, is another question entirely.
Nathan will be in the mix for the Nationals' closer job this spring, The Washington Post reports. He's thrown just 6.2 innings in the majors over the last two seasons, but Nathan has one thing going for him that none of the Nats' other closing options do, and that's experience. The 42-year-old has 377 career saves, eighth most in MLB history, and if he shows that he has anything left in the tank during spring training, he could give manager Dusty Baker the veteran security blanket at the back of the bullpen that he prefers. Nathan's still a long shot to even win a spot on the 25-man roster, much less a high-leverage role, but in deep NL-only fantasy leagues he could be an interesting stash on your reserve list.