By Ashley Dunkak
@AshleyDunkak

CBS DETROIT – Detroit Tigers closer Joe Nathan finished last season on a relatively strong note, and he expects his progress to continue in 2015.

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Nathan started 2014, his first season with the Tigers, in probably the worst way possible, allowing four earned runs over his first five appearances. He finished the season with an ERA of 4.81, the second-worst mark of his lengthy career. The six-time All-Star had recorded a 1.39 ERA in 2013.

Nathan improved as the 2014 season continued, however, after identifying and correcting a flaw in his delivery. He believes the understanding of what went wrong last season will help him avoid such problems this season.

“The good thing now is this staff kind of has a good feel, and I think they’ll be able to pick up on something quicker than we did last year,” Nathan said Thursday. “It took us a couple months to figure out that my arm angle was higher than it’s ever been. I think this year we can definitely notice if I’m getting out of whack a little bit and pick up on it a lot quicker, hopefully instantly, so he can run out to the mound and say, ‘Hey, you’re getting a little high, let’s drop it down a little bit,’ so we can fix problems a lot faster.”

Nathan said the work he has done so far this offseason has gone well, from building confidence in the revamped arm angle to refining various pitches.

“As far as on-field stuff, it’s really right now just been about arm strength and continuing to feel comfortable with the new arm angle that we developed last year, so having an offseason to kind of build my arm strength with that and then come into spring as comfortable as I can so I can start to really prepare my pitches on both sides of the plate, use breaking balls on both sides of the plate,” Nathan said. “As far as other pitches right now I’ve been throwing my change-up and that’s it as far as off-speed pitches, so I’m hoping that pitch becomes more comfortable so I can use it more in games.”

While he is not throwing off the mound yet, Nathan said his arm feels solid.

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“It’s been pretty comfortable,” Nathan said. “As far as the end of the year, I was on a pretty good groove toward the end of the season. As far as pitching-wise, I haven’t been off the mound yet, so I’m not there, and I’ll start that come February and get about five or six bullpens before I head down to Florida, but as far as my arm and where I am as far as arm strength and stuff like that, it feels great. I’m long-tossing as long as I need to right now, I’m at my max distance, so everything is on the up-and-up there, feels great. I’m ready to roll.”

Always one to eschew statistics, Nathan said he does not pay attention to his numbers and that he cares more about the team’s goal of winning another American League Central Division title.

“I always expect to get better,” Nathan said. “Doesn’t matter on numbers or anything like that; I could have a good year and I want to improve the following year. But this year, definitely want to improve numbers-wise, want to improve with everything individually, but more importantly we want to win a division again, and we were able to do that last year, so our goal doesn’t change in that sense. It’s getting back to the postseason and hopefully making some noise this time in the postseason.”

There is one individual goal the pitcher would like to achieve this season, although he counts it as a team accomplishment as much as a personal one. Heading into 2015, Nathan has notched 376 saves, which puts him within reach of 400 for his career.

“I have a milestone that I’d like to reach this year, but as far as that, that’s going to just happen over time and how this club does and with opportunities that will happen,” Nathan said, “but for myself, just keep my head positive and moving forward and doing what I can to help this club get back to our main goal.”

Only six players ever have recorded more saves – Dennis Eckersley with 390, Billy Wagner with 422, John Franco with 424, Lee Smith with 478, Trevor Hoffman with 601 and Mariano Rivera with 652.

 

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