Posted on September 4, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
Veteran reliever Joe Nathan is getting another chance to pitch in the big leagues, and it’s coming with the team with whom he began his career. The San Francisco Giants promoted Nathan from double-A prior to the team’s game Saturday night against the Chicago Cubs, the team that released Nathan less than a month ago. For the 41-year old Nathan, it may be his las hurrah in the big leagues, as well as a chance to help the team that drafted him reach the postseason and win another championship.
Nathan has been on a rollercoaster over the past two years that few pitchers his age would have even attempted to ride. He faced just one batter in the 2015 season before landing on the DL, ultimately undergoing Tommy John surgery. He signed a minor league deal with the Cubs this year, but made just three outings before being released. He soon signed a minor league deal with the Giants and is now back in the big leagues.
“I want to prove to myself that I can still do it,” Nathan said about his motivation for wanting to pitch in the big leagues this season. “Once I had the injury, I don’t think it was 5 minutes after we found out I was going to have surgery that people were already saying, ‘So you’re retiring, right?'” Of course, in addition to proving to himself and others that he can still pitch at the major league level, Nathan also says he wouldn’t mind helping the Giants win another World Series ring this year.
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Giants manager Bruce Bochy says Nathan will be be used out of the San Francisco bullpen in the 6th and 7th innings, helping form a bridge between the starters and closer Santiago Casilla. “I think he’s going to help with his experience,” Bochy said. “That’s valuable for the young guys.”
Bochy also complimented Nathan for his drive and passion for the game. “What’s impressive is what he’s accomplished, but he still has such passion for the game that here he is pitching at Double-A,” Bochy said. “And now here he is, back with the Giants.” Nathan was drafted by the Giants in 1995 and pitched for San Francisco from 1999 to 2003 when he was involved in the now infamous trade that sent him and Francisco Liriano to the Minnesota Twins for A.J. Pierzysnki. He is a six-time all-star with 377 career saves. He also has the highest save percentage in MLB history among pitchers with at least 200 saves.
Nathan made just three appearances with the Cubs earlier this year before the team let him go. On Saturday, Chicago manager Joe Maddon lamented the lack of opportunity Nathan received with the Cubs. “His pitches got up to the low 90s with some really good break. It was just a lack of opportunity with us. I’m really happy that he’s there,” Maddon said.
The Giants appear happy to have Nathan back as well. San Francisco has been in a tailspin since the all-star break and will need all the help they can get in order to secure a spot in the postseason. The Giants hold the top wild card spot in the National League, but there are four teams within 5.5 games of them. Meanwhile, San Francisco trails the Los Angeles Dodgers by two games atop the NL West.
Whether Nathan will make a big impact over the final month of the season remains to be seen. But he does give the Giants an extra arm in the bullpen and a veteran presence, neither of which can hurt a team that’s struggled for the past two months. More than anything, the 41-year old earning a September call-up after coming back from Tommy John surgery is a great story, especially since it’s happening with the team with whom he started his career.