No longer will the Texas Rangers turn to Joe Nathan to protect four- or five-run ninth-inning leads, even if manager Ron Washington considers them the equivalent of save situations.
The Rangers think Nathan's arm is too precious to potentially foul up with extra use.
The decision came in light of Nathan's recent minor health scare in which he had a bit of shoulder inflammation, received a cortisone shot and ended up getting four days off afterward. The shot came just after Nathan was asked to protect a 15-9 lead last week against the Los Angeles Angels, one day after he'd thrown 32 pitches.
"I changed my thinking," Washington said. "If we happen to get a bigger lead, with the workload Joe has had, I'm going to try and stay away from him. I'm going to try to save every bullet we can for him for as long as we hope we will be going."
It's a change from the previous school of thought, which had been that if Nathan got up to warm up, he was going to pitch in the game. Washington had used that approach feeling that once Nathan warmed up, it was the same as if he had pitched anyway, so the Rangers weren't going to waste one of those opportunities.
On Tuesday, Alexi Ogando joined Nathan in the bullpen in the ninth with the Rangers leading 6-3. Had the Rangers scored an additional run, Washington said he would have turned the game over to Ogando. Washington said he's not sure if he would get Nathan back up if Ogando (or another reliever) got into serious trouble and recreated a save opportunity.
On Wednesday, there were no decisions to make. The Rangers took the lead in the top of the ninth and Nathan entered to protect the lead in a 10-9 win over the Red Sox at Boston. Nathan used his fastball at 94-96 mph in both games and threw his slider at 89-90 mph.
"I felt like I had some new life on it," Nathan said. "I could see they were fouling fastballs off to the right side, which is an indicator to me. I can tell when I've got life and when it feels like I'm forcing balls up there. The last couple of times out, I didn't feel like I had anything I could throw by guys. I felt much better (Tuesday)."
Nathan has converted 23 of 24 save opportunities and 21 in a row. However, he has pitched in almost as many non-save situations (21) as he has save chances this season. While a couple have been necessary work to keep him from getting stale and a couple of others were tie games at home in the ninth or later, the majority of those 21 non-save situations have been in games that Washington felt he either still had to "shut down" or games in which Nathan had already gotten up with a save situation looming, only to have the Rangers score more runs to open a wider lead.