DETROIT -- It's harder to manage a season than to manage a game.
The hardest player to manage is the closer.
These facts surfaced anew Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park in how Brad Ausmus utilized and then discussed Joe Nathan.
Ausmus brought Nathan, his ninth-inning closer, into a non-save situation Saturday night. The Tigers led Boston by four runs with three outs to go.
"We wanted to get him an inning," Ausmus said. "We're going to need Joe Nathan. We wanted to get him out there and throw some pitches and kind of work through this. He threw more pitches than we wanted (32), but he was able to get through it."
If Nathan hadn't allowed a run Saturday, he would have put together back-to-back scoreless outings. From Ausmus' viewpoint, Nathan might have eliminated himself from pitching for a third straight day on Sunday, but he could start to feel good about himself again for the long haul. It was important to get Nathan back in form.
Nathan allowed two runs Saturday in what can now be called the worst stretch of his decade as a closer: entering Sunday, he had allowed 10 runs in his last 31/3 innings. (That matches the 10 runs he gave up all of last season in a brilliant year with Texas.)
A manager can move a struggling hitter down in the order; he can put a faltering setup or situational reliever in a less stressful role; he can shift a struggling starting pitcher to the bullpen, have him skip a start, or take him out earlier than usual. No such cushion exists for the closer.
Any move with the closer--including taking him out with a lead during a game--screams "closer crisis." The ramifications last for days, if not longer.
Perhaps this is why Ausmus refuses to show any sign of wavering faith in Nathan. "I'm not concerned about him," Ausmus said. "He will get it ironed out. We need him to get it ironed out."
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