Nathan’s strong de­but

The Washington Post Sunday - - SCOREBOARD -

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.”

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