Washington Nationals: Joe Nathan ends comeback

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Feb 16, 2017; West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher Joe Nathan (74) throws in the bullpen during spring training workouts at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 16, 2017; West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher Joe Nathan (74) throws in the bullpen during spring training workouts at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Washington Nationals honored Joe Nathan’s request for release. Although not officially retired, this all but ends his spectacular career.

Joe Nathan’s comeback bid with the Washington Nationals is over. Wednesday, according to Chris Cotillo, he asked for his release from his minor-league contract and the Nats honored it.

The decision to leave is never easy. As he recovered from a second Tommy John surgery, Nathan signed with Washington in January as a non-roster invitee for Spring Training. Told in March he was not on the final roster, he was let go.

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A change of heart in April reunited Nathan with the club, taking a minor league deal and pitching for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. Down there he did not dazzle as the big club struggled and searched for elusive bullpen help. Convinced he was never heading to Washington, he requested to opt-out.

For the six-time All-Star closer, you know this was a tough decision. Once a top relief ace for the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers, recapturing old magic was impossible. Nathan added a changeup to his arsenal this spring, but his fastball was a flat 91. In the beginning, he fooled nobody.

As the Grapefruit League wore on, he improved. Nathan battled to the end of Washington’s time in West Palm Beach before losing to Matt Albers for a roster spot. After clearing his head, he settled with Syracuse for one more chance.

Although he saved four games for the win-challenged Chiefs, Nathan struggled over his two months.

In 17 games for Syracuse, he went 0-2 with a 7.31 ERA. Add a WHIP of 1.688 and you understand why Nathan stayed as Matt Grace and Jacob Turner earned promotion.

Nathan struggled with control against International League batters, walking 8 to 16 strikeouts. He allowed 19 hits, three leaving the yard, and 11 earned runs. As in early spring, he could not fool hitters.

Knowing when to say goodbye is never easy. Nathan pitched well last year in short stints with the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs. He felt, rightly, he had something to offer a championship contender. His numbers tell a different story.

After the second injury, it is normal to want to leave on your own terms. With 377 career saves, he will merit Hall of Fame discussion.

For Nathan, Father Time had other plans. Although he was not keeping a better prospect from promotion, you knew it ate at him to not get that last call. The decision to pull the plug was his.

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A longshot Nathan gave himself one more chance. The results were not there, but he tried his best. For any man that is all you ask for.

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