Originally written on The Detroit Sports Site  |  Last updated 5/29/14
Unacceptable. That is the word to describe Joe Nathan’s performance on and off the field Wednesday night, as the struggling Detroit Tigers coughed away a game they should have won. Nathan spoiled Anibal Sanchez’s brilliant start by hanging a batting practice slider to Josh Donaldson, which Donaldson crushed for a walk-off, three-run homer. The Tigers’ closer then passed the buck in the locker room, pinning the blame for the inning on a misplay by rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos one batter earlier. “The big out there was getting [John] Jaso, I think,” Nathan said, according to MLive’s Chris Iott. “You get him and it changes everything. It changes how your approach is against Donaldson. It changes how you can pitch to him. It gives me a chance to play with him a little bit. When I guess we didn’t get Jaso, it puts you in a tough spot. First and third. Real good hitter at the plate. It kind of forces me to go after one of the better hitters in the lineup. Like I said, Jaso was the out that we thought we had, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.” There’s nothing too out of bounds in the statement, and Castellanos himself admitted he probably should have caught Jaso’s liner — it glanced off his glove, allowing the A’s to put runners on first and third with one out. Still, the Castellanos miscue (which was ruled a hit) hardly excuses the subsequent pitch from Nathan to Donaldson, nor does it cover up the fact that the 39-year-old, high-priced veteran closer tried to shift all the blame over to Castellanos, a rookie third baseman. There are going to be difficult moments for a team over the course of a 162-game season. Detroit finds itself smack dab in the middle of an extended one, now having lost eight of its last 10 outings. The onus for snapping out of it lies with new manager Brad Ausmus. Nathan has made his job a whole lot tougher. Already, the Tigers’ starting pitching — save for back-to-back gems from Sanchez — was cause for concern. So, too, at least in spurts was an offense that has several scuffling hitters. The bullpen always presented an issue … and that was before Nathan proved frequently hittable. Detroit chose Nathan at $9 million this season over 2013 closer Joaquin Benoit, who walked for a chance ninth-inning duties in San Diego. So far, for that investment, the Tigers have received 12 saves, four blown opportunities and a near-5.00 ERA. Ausmus also may have a locker-room issue on his hands, to boot. Hardly what anyone expected from Nathan, whom the Tigers wholeheartedly believed would be an unwavering anchor late in games. Twice now during this brutal 10-game slip Nathan has handed away a victory in the ninth: Wednesday vs. Oakland and last Wednesday at Cleveland. Slam the door both times and this miserable 2-8 slump is a somewhat reasonable 4-6 hiccup. Then, even with guys like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer underperforming, the perceived atmosphere around this club would feel much less tense. Much less troublesome. Instead, Nathan has jumped in line with the Tigers' up and down starters, able to go just 1-for-2 in save chances thus far in Oakland and 1-for-3 over the past 10 days. To put it lightly, that is nowhere near good enough. There is enough blame to go around the Tigers' clubhouse these days, and certainly Castellanos deserves a fair heaping of it for Wednesday's disappointment -- the play he botched must be made in that situation, and he continues to scuffle at the plate. But the Tigers rightfully expect Nathan to stand tall in the face of adversity. Ausmus turned to him with a runner at second and one out Wednesday because the longtime closer should be able to hammer down a win there. The Castellanos slip-up was a setback toward that goal, but Nathan is supposed to be able to overcome those mistakes, to pitch the Tigers through difficult spots. He has not done so. Or, has not done so often enough. Nathan -- not Nick Castellanos, not even Brad Ausmus -- needs to figure out why things continue to go wrong for him in the ninth inning. Until he does, and especially so long as he deflects blame for the problems elsewhere, the Tigers have bigger problems on their hands than a mere rough patch.
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