By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – In light of the struggles Detroit Tigers closer Joe Nathan endured throughout the 2014 regular season, many fans hoped Nathan would be supplanted by fellow reliever Joakim Soria, who came to Detroit via a trade in late July and has a 3.25 ERA this season.
Soria made only six appearances for the Tigers before getting hurt, and in 13 outings total for Detroit, his ERA is 4.91. That number is inflated, however, because of one abnormally awful appearance in which he allowed four earned runs in one-third of an inning.
Nathan’s ERA is 4.81 ERA this season – in 2013 he recorded an ERA of 1.39 – but has been significantly better in the second half of the season. His second-half ERA is 3.51, and in September he has held opponents scoreless in eight of 10 outings.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus explained to Stoney, Bill and Sara of 97.1 The Ticket why he will be sticking with Nathan as the closer.
“Really, at the time we got Soria, Joe was the closer, and Joakim wasn’t here very long, and he got hurt in Toronto,” Ausmus said. “At that point, we really didn’t have a choice. To me, closing – I know people love to look at pitching stats and think that can determine a closer, ‘Well this guy’s pitching the best, he should be the closer,’ but I will tell you from experience, and I will stick to this ’til the day I die – closing baseball games, getting the 27th out of a baseball game in a close game, is the not the same as pitching in the seventh inning. It’s not even the same as pitching in the eighth inning. You have to have the makeup to be able to do, and obviously Joe has done it, and Joakim has done it, so they both have the makeup, but Joakim got hurt shortly after he got here, and really since Soria’s gotten here, I think Joe’s, I want to say 17 out of 19 in saves with maybe a 3, almost a 3-even ERA, maybe a tick over 3, so he’s actually pitched well since Soria got here. And having three guys in terms of depth makes it much better at the back end of the bullpen.
“If you have a guy who can pitch the seventh, the eighth and the ninth, that’s a lot more secure than having a guy who can just pitch the eighth and the ninth,” Ausmus continued. “If you take Joe out of the closer’s role, you don’t really have a spot to pitch him in. So there’s a number of factors that go into it … Does that mean something couldn’t happen in the playoffs to change my mind? Absolutely not.”
Ausmus noted that while decisions made in the regular season take into account that marathon-like nature of the 162-game grind, postseason decisions reflect the fact that every game is vital, so struggling players might not get as much leeway as they otherwise would.
Nathan earned a save in Detroit’s final regular season game Sunday, when he pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to close out a shutout of the Minnesota Twins in the game that sealed a fourth straight American League Central Division championship for the Tigers.