Nathan’s strong debut
Joe Nathan has been doing this spring training thing for more than two decades. He has 377 saves and six all-star appearances on a big league résumé that goes back to 1999, when he broke into the majors as a starting pitcher. But none of that stops the self-doubt from annually surfacing when he takes the mound for the first time.
“You still get to the first game and think, ‘Am I ready for this?’ ” Nathan said. “‘Am I ready to pitch in a game and all the situations that may come across and may come up?’ So you just try to mentally go out and simplify things and keep things in your control.”
It happened again Saturday, when Nathan made his debut in a Nationals uniform in the club’s exhibition win against the Mets. The 42-year-old right-hander began his audition for a spot in Washington’s bullpen with a scoreless third inning. He surrendered a single to Rene Rivera but induced a double play to end the inning having faced the minimum. He needed just nine pitches. Seven were strikes.
Perhaps most importantly, Nathan hit 92 mph and sat between 90 and 92 on the stadium radar gun. Those guns are known to exaggerate, but it remains encouraging for a man who has had two Tommy John surgeries, has thrown 62/3 innings in the majors the past two seasons and whose No. 74 jersey refers to his birth year.
“I’ll tell you, it felt very easy today,” Nathan said. “I’m surprised that it got there. Normally, for me, spring has always been velocity down, even when I was a mid-to-upper guy. I always threw low 90s in the spring, so for me to go out and be 91, 92 for a first outing — and I felt very easy out there. I didn’t feel like I was putting too much effort into pitches. I felt very smooth, very effortless, I would say.”