Joe Nathan feels better about release from Cubs after Giants pick him up

Joe Nathan said he felt "things were on track" with the Cubs and was disappointed in getting released, but now is happy to get a chance with the Giants. AP Photo/Benny Sieu

CHICAGO -- Former Chicago Cubs reliever Joe Nathan can smile now that’s he’s back in the big leagues with the San Francisco Giants after appearing in just three games with the Cubs before they released him early last month.

“From Day 1 the plan with the Cubs was to try and get me as strong as possible for the August and September run,” Nathan said from the visitors' clubhouse on Sunday morning. “I felt like we were on track. Things were right where they needed to be.”

The Cubs signed Nathan, who was coming off elbow surgery, in May, eventually calling him up to the majors in late July. He gave up two hits and two walks and struck out four in two innings without yielding a run but the additions of lefty Aroldis Chapman and righty Joe Smith at the trade deadline forced the Cubs to make a decision with Nathan.

“In their defense I don’t think they foresaw picking up Chapman, picking up Joe Smith, and their bullpen shaping up the way it was,” Nathan said. “On that side of it I completely understand. Still, it was a disappointing turn of events. Things went from ‘this is the plan’ to ‘now what?’”

Nathan says he knew something was up when Cubs president Theo Epstein called him into a “mechanical closet or something” in the team’s new clubhouse.

“I was thinking, ‘Is he pulling me into a mechanical closet to release me?’” Nathan recalled.

Nathan says he and Epstein had a nice conversation, though he recalls jokingly telling his former boss he’d like to ‘get on a contender and face the Cubs, or something like that,’ Nathan said.

He got his wish as the Giants signed him to a minor league deal then called him up this weekend. After signing a major league contract with the Cubs, they’ll be the ones on the hook for most of his salary this season.

“You wish you had a crystal ball because when I’m released four guys go on the disabled list, I’m like ‘you have to be kidding,’” Nathan said.

He’s mostly referring to Pedro Strop, Joe Smith and Hector Rondon. For a moment Nathan thought he might be able to return to the Cubs, but rules would have prevented him from making it back to the major league club for 30 days. So he waited and stayed in shape in Chicago until the Giants called. Even then he thought he would only be finishing up the year in the minors.

“It’s natural to think ‘why did you do it?’” he said referencing the Cubs. “But at the same time they paid me to rehab. I appreciate the hard work their entire staff did, from Arizona all the way up to the big leagues.

“It’s full circle coming back here (San Francisco). Finishing the year with a team was the biggest thing for me, but hooking up with a contender is even better.”