ARLINGTON — An ability to throw any pitch at any time is what helped make Joe Nathan a four-time All-Star closer with Minnesota, but he wasn’t able to do that over the first half of last season.
That’s not unusual for a pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery, and the rule of thumb is that he needs 18 months after having his elbow ligament replaced before everything starts to resemble what it once was.
Nathan hit 18 months in September, just as the 2011 season was coming to an end. Sure enough, his pitches were going where he wanted and moving the way they did in his last healthy season in 2009.
By the time Opening Day arrives in 2012, Nathan expects to be as sharp as he was while becoming the Twins’ all-time saves leader. He’ll be wearing a Texas Rangers’ uniform, though, as he and his new team try to chase down their first world title.
“Them getting to the postseason and getting to the World Series is definitely huge, and knowing what type of club this is and the success they’ve had played a huge factor,” Nathan said.
“When I came back from the disabled list in June, that was a huge turning point for me. It seemed like each month got better and better for me — the way I felt and the way I was finishing pitches. The feel started coming back for me with each month.
“I really feel like going into the off-season and coming into spring, I should feel even better than I did at the end of September. I’m excited about that.”
The Rangers introduced Nathan on Tuesday, his 37th birthday. He signed a two-year contract that guarantees him $14.5 million and also includes a club option for a third season at $9 million.
His confidence that the elbow injury is behind him stems from an ability to command all of his pitches toward the end of last season, when he was successful in his final 11 save chances.
“I tried to make other pitches better when my velocity wasn’t there,” said Nathan, who is 8 for 9 in save attempts at Rangers Ballpark and has a 1.98 ERA in 13 games. “I used my curveball a lot more last year. I was able to command it a lot better on both sides of the plate. Trying to use movement a little bit more, that got better.”
He donned a white Rangers jersey with the No. 63 on the back. He was No. 36 in Minnesota, but that number has belonged to C.J. Wilson. Nathan has no problems wearing 63 if the free-agent starting pitcher re-signs, though Nathan said he might try to purchase the number from Wilson.
General manager Jon Daniels again said that the Rangers are open to bringing back Wilson even though the Nathan move has allowed them to put Neftali Feliz into the rotation.
He spoke with Wilson’s agent, Bob Garber, on Monday night before the Nathan deal was announced to convey that the Rangers were still in the mix for Wilson on a long-term contract.
Wilson is meeting with teams he considers to be serious suitors, and the Rangers could be on his schedule before the winter meetings.
“We talked about the possibility of getting together, but we haven’t set anything up yet,” Daniels said. “C.J. is looking for what the market will bring. He’s had two tremendous years. He deserves to be well-compensated. I’m sure he will be.”