April 23, 2007
Indians 7, Twins 3
Joe Nathan has been arguably the single best reliever in all of baseball since coming to Minnesota in 2004, going 16-7 with a 2.01 ERA, 129 saves, a 285-to-63 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .180 opponent's batting average in 219 innings. Coming into last night's game, he had thrown a grand total of 16 pitches over the previous 90 hours, with all of them coming Saturday when he struck out the side against the Royals.
Last night's game against the Indians took place at the Metrodome and went 12 innings, with no save chance to be had at any point after the eighth inning. Given all of that information--a well rested, elite reliever with no save opportunity to be held back for in a home game--when would you expect Nathan to have entered? I'm not sure how you answered that question, but Ron Gardenhire's answer was to keep Nathan in the bullpen until the Twins were trailing by multiple runs in the 12th inning.
Five relievers took the mound before the team's closer, with Nathan finally coming in only after the Twins' chances of winning were at the lowest point of the game. Call me crazy, but that seems like the exact opposite of how a closer should be used. Now, that's not necessarily why the Twins lost, because prior to Jesse Crain the bullpen pitched very well while Nathan looked on and the offense certainly blew plenty of chances to end things with one measly run.
With that said, it's moves like Nathan's usage last night--involving making decisions based on meaningless labels and misguided stubbornness rather than intelligent strategy and smart tactics--that gnaw at me when the Twins lose winnable games. Win or lose, to play a 12-inning game at home without using your fully rested closer in a high-leverage situation is simply bad managing. Nathan should have been given a chance to win or lose the game before Crain lost it. That's his job.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.