Joe Nathan entered Monday with a 7.04 ERA, but he's still Detroit's closer -- for now.
Nathan was one of baseball's best closers from 2004-2009, saving 246 games with a 1.87 ERA for Minnesota. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010 and returned to dominance in 2011 and 2012 with Texas, posting a 2.09 ERA with 80 saves.
Detroit, hoping to find a proven closer after Joaquin Benoit (who had a 2.01 ERA and 24 saves last year) signed with San Diego in the offseason, turned to Nathan -- and the bottom's fallen out. Nathan's sky-high ERA has been propped up by averaging 4.30 walks and 1.57 home runs per nine innings, the kind of numbers that don't appear encouraging for a 39-year-old.
Still, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus is sticking with Nathan and said he'd pitch if presented with a save situation on Monday against the White Sox. Ausmus said he didn't make that decision because Joba Chamberlain blew a save Sunday when he gave up a go-ahead three-run homer to David Ortiz in the top of the ninth.
"Joe would've been closing tonight regardless," Ausmus said. "It has nothing to do with last night."
Detroit's bullpen, Nathan especially, has given up plenty of home runs -- 20 in 169 2/3 innings, to be exact, heavily contributing to an MLB-worst 4.77 ERA. Ausmus wanted to give Nathan the night off Sunday after he threw two days in a row, and Chamberlain succumbed to those same longball woes.
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While the numbers look grim bullpens are prone to wild swings on a month-to-month basis, so there's a chance Detroit's bullpen looks a lot better over the summer. As a unit, Detroit's bullpen has a 4.00 FIP, which is generally more indicative of future success than projecting out using ERA.
"The ninth inning has been a weakness, obviously, for us. But it's only been a third of the season," Ausmus said. "If we can get the ninth inning to return to form for the next two thirds, I think we'll be in outstanding shape."