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Matt Shepard

Shep's Take: Losing Favor Quickly

 
Posted May 30th, 2014 @ 10:05am

We in Detroit pride ourselves on being fair, and yet we brag that the "two toughest jobs here are goalie for the Red Wings and quarterback for the Lions." 

I would add closer for the Tigers. 

We have never warmed to any of them: John Hiller, Mike Henneman, Todd Jones, Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit and now Joe Nathan. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying they have all given us reason to show undying love for them, but even when Valverde was perfect in 2011 in 49 tries, we found fault with his performance. We didn't like his entrance routine or his emotion. When Jones became the all-time franchise leader in saves, we complained that he took us on too much of a roller-coaster ride. 

All fair. Nit picky at times, but fair.

And now Nathan. He owns 353 career saves, though many in a Tigers uniform have been anything but routine. I'm not so sure it's about his ineffectiveness, as it is about his post-game comments from Wednesday night in Oakland.

He said, " It's still about getting outs. The big out was getting Jaso. You get him and everything changes. We didn't get him and that puts us in a tough spot. Jaso was the out that we thought we had, but unfortunately it didn't happen." 

It didn't happen because Nick Castellanos failed to catch a line-drive. Simple as that. Major League third basemen make that play. But Nathan must be able to forget it, and get the next hitter. The next hitter promptly belted a game-winning three-run home run. 

That's his job. That's why he signed a big contract. He's supposed to be able to get the tough hitters.

The bigger debate is the post-game interview. Did Nathan really throw his rookie third basemen "under the bus?" He brought up a play that was crucial to the inning and extended the game. If Castellanos makes that play, he likely completes a double play, the game is over and the Tigers win. 

You thought it at the time. 

Maybe you even said it, but Nathan (and Brad Ausmus) bring it up and he is vilified. Look, people don't like excuses. That's how Nathan is viewed by the masses. They feel, "mistakes happens, you have to play through it. You're getting paid $9 million this year to get the next guy out."

Too many times, we in sports get locked into cliches. Twitter was ablaze with the "Nathan threw Castellanos under the bus" cliche. Maybe it was intentional. I don't know, but maybe he's explaining the key to the inning. Ask yourself this: if Nathan says nothing after the game, are you talking about the line drive off Castellanos' glove the next day? Absolutely. You, and everybody else. You may not be blaming it on him, but it's a topic of conversation without a doubt. 

You want to be worried about Nathan as a closer, you have a right to. His strikeouts per nine are down; his walks per nine are up and so is his home run rate. He's getting fewer swings and misses on both his fastball and slider, his velocity is down with both pitches and he's blown more saves this year (4) than he did all of last year (3).

Just like Nathan must shoulder the blame for the home run on Wednesday, Castellanos must take responsibility for the ball he should have caught.

The difference is one did and the other didn't, and that's as big an issue as the stats and sound bites.

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