By Ashley Dunkak
@AshleyDunkak

DETROIT – When Detroit Tigers closer Joe Nathan felt a pop in his arm during Wednesday’s rehab appearance with Triple-A Toledo, the worst-case scenario immediately came to mind.

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As it turned out, Nathan tore not only his ulnar collateral ligament but also his flexor tendon. His season is over, and he will undergo Tommy John surgery.

“He actually popped two areas,” manager Brad Ausmus said Thursday morning. “Any time someone has to get surgery, you feel for them, but this is certainly a devastating blow for Joe and for the team.”

After speaking with the team doctor and another doctor, Nathan did not plan to seek any more opinions.

“The way it feels is what tells me more so than somebody telling me what a picture looks like,” Nathan said. “I knew when I felt the pop, something wasn’t right, and then when I tried to throw another pitch, then it was pretty clear to me that something happened. I didn’t realize that I was able to rip through two things at once, and it seemed like it was on one pitch, because like I said it felt good up to that point.

“Is it the way that I wanted this year to go? Obviously not,” Nathan continued. “I would have liked to been a part of this club and helped this team win and make our bullpen deeper. Obviously these guys have been doing a tremendous job … I just wanted to be a part of it. I will be. I’ll be doing what I’ve done for the last 14 games, being a cheerleader and rooting these boys on and hopefully see these guys get to the playoffs and go further than that. I will continue to, like I said, be a huge fan of these guys.”

Nathan is already 40 years old, but he said he plans to make a comeback.

“Now that I know what’s in front of me, the one thing I’ve always been able to do is grind it out and work and push through things,” Nathan said. “It’s what I have fun doing. It’s what I’ve enjoyed doing my whole career. It’s never been easy for me. I was a Division III shortstop, and I now have played 15 seasons as a pitcher in the big leagues. Nothing’s come easy, and this definitely won’t be easy. It’s going to be a long road, but I’ve always enjoyed the work, and this will be no different. I will rehab and do everything I am supposed to as if I am coming back to be a major league pitcher.

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“That is my goal, to come back and pitch again,” Nathan added. “But more importantly, the rehab will be good for the rest of my life anyway. It’s something I need to do to get strong again, to be able to pay catch with my kid, golf, whatever I’m going to do, but I am preparing myself to come back and be a major league player again.”

The rehabilitation for Nathan’s injury will be several months longer than the standard rehabilitation following Tommy John surgery. Nathan may not be able to make a comeback, but he plans on trying.

“The only way I know how to attack something is to go at it 110 percent, so like I said, regardless of what the future holds for me, I’m going to prepare myself to come back and play this game,” Nathan said. “Hanging my cleats up never crossed my mind until that day that I have to. My motto in this game has always been ‘throw ’til you blow.’ Unfortunately, yesterday I did blow.

“One of those things that I’ve been proud of my career, I’ve been proud of things I’ve done, but it’s always been about hard work and getting myself ready, so this will be no different,” Nathan added. “I will prepare myself to get ready and bust my butt to see whatever’s in store for me in the future.”

Nathan, standing in front of his locker in the team’s clubhouse, characterized Wednesday as an emotional day, particularly given the work he had put in to return from a strain he suffered when he pitched on Opening Day. The rehab stint Wednesday was supposed to be the final step in his return from that injury. Had that outing gone well, Nathan hoped to come off the disabled list Friday.

Instead, his season is over, and while he did not announce retirement Thursday, his career may be over as well.

“Emotional day, for sure,” Nathan said. “I want people to understand – I think sometimes people doesn’t realize how much work and effort goes into playing this game, not just the last couple of years but over the course of a career, and playing this game, going out there and preparing yourself every day. The things sometimes we have to do, take anti-inflammatories every day on a daily basis, get numerous cortisone shots, trainers are in there hours on end trying to make sure we’re physically ready to go. It’s tough, and we wouldn’t have it any other way, but unfortunately these things do happen.

“The emotional thing, the frustrating thing is what we do to prepare ourselves and what we do every year to get ourselves ready, and like I said, coming in this year, shoot, I had a cortisone shot Saturday night when I landed and then pitched on Opening Day on Monday to make sure I was ready for that,” Nathan continued. “It just kind of shows what these trainers do for us, what we do to get ourselves ready, and it does become very emotional, and yesterday was a very tough day. I knew something was wrong, but to get the news that not only did I tear my flexor but got the UCL as well, so I did a number on it.”

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In his one outing for Detroit this season, Nathan pitched a scoreless one-third of an inning and recorded a save, the 377th save of his career.