June 19, 2014 at 11:29 pm

Tigers closer Joe Nathan finishes victory on a high note

Detroit — During a string of games where there wasn’t much that went right for the Tigers, manager Brad Ausmus found something to smile about following Thursday’s 2-1 victory over the Royals.

Closer Joe Nathan entered the game clinging to a one-run lead and closed the door by striking out the side in the ninth.

“It’s a baby step,” Ausmus said. “We still have to continue to win games, but the most encouraging thing was the way Joe threw at the end. It kind of looked like Joe Nathan from a year ago.”

In his second season with the Rangers, Nathan went 6-2 with a 1.39 ERA and 43 saves. The Tigers signed him during the offseason, hoping he was the answer to a shoddy back end of the bullpen.

So far, Nathan has had mixed results (3-2, 14 saves).

“That’s the best he’s looked all year,” Ausmus said. “I’m sure he feels good about it — he should feel good about it. It was a good outing. It was a one-run game.”

The three strikeouts matched Nathan’s total from his last eight appearances. He has four blown saves this season — his career high is six — but by tinkering with his mechanics recently, might have fixed something.

“I think somehow along the way, my arm slot actually got a little higher than I have been,” Nathan said. “We just tried to go out and consciously make an effort to get it down and away from myself — get my arm away from me a little bit.

“And keep my head in line. That’s been the biggest thing. I think my head’s been leaking and maybe that’s me trying to do a little bit more than I need to.”

Nathan said those differences affected the location of some of his pitches and caused him to walk more batters.

“So when I got out on the mound (Thursday), I had a little bit of extra focus on, all right, be ready to compete,” he said. “It’s not about mechanics now, it’s about getting after it,” Nathan said. “Fortunately, everything came out very natural. Location wasn’t an issue at all.”

For catcher Bryan Holaday, seeing Nathan hit 94 mph was a sign the mechanics are back in line.

“The ball was coming out of his hands great,” Holaday said. “He was really free and easy, smooth delivery and then the ball was just exploding out of his hand.”

Nathan, however, doesn’t view one good outing as a sign all is well.

“I’m not saying, ‘Oh, I’m back,’ ” he said. “We’ve got 3½ months to go. It’s a grind every day.”

rod.beard@detroitnews.com
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Joe Nathan's three strikeouts matched his total from his last eight appearances. He has four blown saves this season — his career high is six — but by tinkering with his mechanics recently, might have fixed something. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News
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