What a surprise? Nathan has surgery

A couple of pieces of news regarding the Minnesota Twins that might be of interest.

Twins closer Joe Nathan underwernt surgery Tuesday to remove two bone chips from his right elbow. He acknowledged that he’s pitched much of the season not feeling right.

I didn’t exactly go out on a limb when I suggested some sort of injury would probably pop up after the season. It was the only logical explanation as to why a shut-down closer is suddenly giving up more homers and walks than he normally does.

Nathan is expected to be ready for spring training.

Also this week, Twins mega-prospect Miguel Angel Sano received his work visa. The top Dominican prospect, who is believed to be 16 years old, can now work in the United States.

Other than determining his actual age, this was the biggest hurdle for the Twins and Sano to overcome. He will head to Fort Myers to play in the Gulf Coast League next season.

Twins slide into 0-2 hole after 11th-inning homer

Not surprisingly, the Minnesota Twins are in an 0-2 hole in their best-of-5 American League Division Series against the New York Yankees following Friday’s loss.

But somewhat surprisingly, the Twins had as good a chance to win as they could ask for during their 4-3 loss in 11 innings.

The Twins had plenty of baserunners, but they continued to struggle with runners in scoring position. They left 17 baserunners on base in Friday’s game alone.

Carlos Gomez‘s baserunning gaffe stands out among the Twins’ mistakes Friday, but their inability to produce with the bases loaded in nobody out in the top of the 11th proved to be their undoing.

Yes, the left-field umpire can be blamed for blowing the call on what should have been a Joe Mauer double but instead was ruled foul (Mauer later singled). But nevertheless, bases loaded an nobody out, and you can’t get a run? That’s not the fundamentally sound Twins that fans are used to hearing about.

Joe Nathan‘s inability to close the door in the ninth burned the Twins too.I’ve mentioned before that something just doesn’t seem right about Nathan since that 50-pitch outing against Kansas City in August. That’s now six homers allowed since his lengthy Aug. 21 appearance, which as I’ve stated before would be a career-high for a whole season for him since joining the Twins. And he’s given up that total in just six weeks or so.

My guess is after the season something will come out regarding Nathan’s arm, like some sort of an injury or something.

Now the Twins head back to the Metrodome, no doubt feeling deflated by two straight losses following their thrilling victory in the one-game playoff.

While it’s no surprise the Twins are in this spot, they definitely left some runs on the table on Friday.

Analyzing the “What’s wrong with Joe Nathan?” talk

We didn’t get far along talking Minnesota Twins baseball on the "Sports Talk" radio program on WDAY 970-AM on Thursday before a couple of callers started asking, "What’s wrong with closer Joe Nathan?" or "Does Joe Nathan make you nervous too?"

Now, before entering into such a discussion, I think a couple of facts have to be acknowledged from the get-go:

  • Any ninth-inning save situation is going to be a nail-biter. That comes with the territory, so you’re always going to be nervous, whether it’s Eddie Guardado closing it out or Cy Young himself.
  • Nathan is one of the premier – if not the premier – closers in the game. Really, who else is in his class? Mariano Rivera. Jonathan Papelbon. Jonathan Broxton. That’s about it. And I’m not sure I wouldn’t take Nathan over any of those guys. I probably would.

As far as Nathan goes, most people who wonder whether or not he’s at his best – including myself – point to the 53-pitch outing he had against the Kansas City Royals on Aug. 21 as the beginning of his so-called troubles. It was a brutal outing, but only by Nathan’s standards: 2 IPs, 4 Hs, 1 ER, and ultimately, a blown save. And that’s a lot of pitches by Nathan’s standards, too.

The numbers dating back to Aug. 21 are: 16 games, 16.1 innings, 13 Hs, 7 ERs, 10 BBs, 22 Ks.

Not too shabby, really. Only two blown saves, including the Aug. 21 appearance. That’s good for a 3.86 ERA over that stretch, which is about a run higher than his career ERA, but still nothing to sound the alarms over. And 22 strikeouts in 16.1 innings? Well, it’s tough to beat that.

If any two numbers over those 16 appearances stand out to me, it’s the 10 walks and the four homers allowed.

  • First, the walks. That’s roughly 5.5 walks per 9 innings, much higher than his career average of 3.5 BBs/9 IPs. In none of his previous three seasons, he’s reached 20 walks in a season, so 10 in 16 appearances is much higher than Twins fans are used to.
  • And for Nathan to give up four homers in 16 games is unusual, too. On average, he’s given up just four homers per season in his previous five seasons. He’s given up six this season now, his highest total since joining the Twins in an offseason trade prior to the 2004 season.

Back to the question, "What’s wrong with Joe Nathan?" Well, there’s definitely some trends in his recent performances that by his standards are unusual. In this 16-game stretch, he’s given up a season’s worth of homers and issued walks at a 60 percent higher clip than he normally does in his career.

There are a number of possible explanations for this. He could just be suffering from fatigue, or maybe there’s something mechanically wrong. Some suggest his confidence is shaken, but I think he’s wiggled out of far too many jams for that to be the case. Let’s remember, he’s only blown two saves in those 16 games. And it’s quite possible too that nothing is wrong with him, that maybe it’s just an anomaly.

But Nathan, even when he’s not at his best, is still better than 90 percent of the closers in baseball.