The Texas Rangers would love to save Joe Nathan for critical save situations.
The rest of the bullpen doesn't seem to be cooperating.
On a chilly Tuesday, the Rangers faced a situation that cried for a conservative approach -- a four-run lead against a lifeless Chicago Cubs team that managed just three hits in the first eight innings. It seemed like the perfect time to rest Nathan and turn to some of the younger arms in the bullpen.
That lasted about four hitters. The Rangers turned the game over to left-hander Michael Kirkman, who has great stuff but a history of coming up small in big situations due to command issues. Kirkman got two quick outs, then allowed a single. Nathan started loosening. After Kirkman issued a walk, manager Ron Washington felt as if he had no choice but to go to Nathan. By that time, with the tying run on deck, it was a save situation even though the Rangers led by four.
"Somebody else has got to get us some outs, too," Washington said. "It was four runs. We were pitching well. Michael got the first two but couldn't get the last out."
With temperatures hovering around 38 degrees and his closer 38 years old, Washington tried to adhere to the old baseball adage that states: "Unless your closer is in his 60s, he should never pitch when his age and the temperature are the same."
A week ago, Washington brought Nathan in at home to close out a four-run lead, which he did swiftly. The next night, called on in a more genuine save situation, Nathan struggled and got out of the inning with a called third strike by that plate umpire Marty Foster later admitted was a mistake.
After that game, Washington said, "I'd rather have Joe come in (to start) the ninth and bail us out than him to have to come in the middle of a jam and us bail him out."
That is actually what happened Tuesday. Nathan allowed an infield single to load the bases, a double that cut the margin to 4-2 and then hit a batter to reload the bases and put the winning run on first. He got Darwin Barney to hit a sinking liner to center on a 2-and-2 pitch. What looked like a game-tying hit -- at the least -- was scooped by fast-closing, sliding center fielder Craig Gentry.
On Tuesday, Nathan threw 20 pitches raising, the question of whether he'd be available if a tighter save situation arises Wednesday. This time, at least, the Rangers have a couple of things working in their favor.
Nathan had two days off between outings, which might keep him more refreshed going into a potential back-to-back situation. Second, the forecast for Chicago on Wednesday is awful with 100 percent chance of showers in the afternoon and early evening. It's very possible Nathan could get an unscheduled off day and be fresh in case the teams are able to play Thursday's finale.
It doesn't solve the long-term problem, though. Somebody in the Rangers' bullpen must step up to give Washington an option to lock down leads in the ninth on days that shouldn't require Nathan.