Closer Joe Nathan ready for spring debut

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- At some point today against Chicago White Sox in Surprise, Texas Rangers closer Joe Nathan will get his first inning of work in a Cactus League game.

"I haven't pitched in one of those games out here since 2003," said Nathan, who trained in Florida as a member of the Minnesota Twins. He was with the San Francisco Giants, who have camp in Scottsdale, before that.

Nathan, 37, has spent spring training getting to know his teammates and preparing for the 2012 season. He said he hasn't worried at all about his elbow. Nathan had Tommy John surgery on March 26, 2010, and missed that entire season. He struggled to start the 2011 season, getting a few saves early but then issuing nine runs in his next five innings, losing his closer's job to Matt Capps. Nathan actually went to manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson after another rough outing and the three decided that Capps should close.

Nathan went on the disabled list with a right flexor muscle strain in his elbow. When Nathan returned, he found his form. He had a 0.68 ERA in 14 outings from the end of June to early August and in his final 31 appearances, held opponents to a .193 average and had a 3.38 ERA.

"The way I finished the season made me feel like I was getting there," Nathan said. "Everything has gone just like the offseason workouts. I went staright into spring and feel good, arm feels alive, preparation has been good. Now it’s just keep going and plugging away."

Nathan said he's thrown all of his pitches this spring, which includes a two-seam and four-seam fastball, slider, curve and change. He said he developed the slider after he was hurt earlier in his career and that the curve has usually been one of his best pitches. One of his focuses this spring is continuing to make progress with his changeup.

"I think the change is the one pitch that is a feel pitch and I'm trying to fine tune it," Nathan said. "The last two years, it’s become more comfortable for me. It’s taken a while to realize how I need to throw it and not guide it or try to slow it down too much. If it’s 87 miles per hour, than it’s 87. Don’t try to make it 10 miles off your fastball. Just throw it and let it be what it’s going to be and let the movement be more important than the velocity."

Nathan is just excited to get in a game and get the spring in gear.

"I always look forward to pitching no matter where you are," Nathan said. "Any time you get a chance to go out and perform and try to get better and prepare yourself for the season, you look forward to it. I’m excited to get that first one done and start the ball rolling."