August 11, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Kurt Mensching

Tigers closer Joe Nathan is only keeping job by default these days

Tigers closer Joe Nathan has blown six saves already this season, the latest one coming Saturday afternoon in Toronto. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)

So much for that idea of replacing Joe Nathan as closer.

Before Friday, Nathan had started to look better in his past handful of appearances. He allowed just three baserunners before Fridayís save. Then Friday alone, he allowed three baserunners. Old Joe was back, and not for the better.

On Saturday, Nathan managed to get just one out before being yanked by Ausmus after allowing two hits, two walks and the tying run.

ďJoe is the closer,Ē Ausmus said after that game.

Easy to say, hard to inspire confidence in the message. All closers blow saves. Nathan has blown six of them. The Tigers are a half-game ahead of the Royals in the American League Central. Do the math.

You have to respect Ausmusí ability to come to a decision and stick to it. Itís just that most of the people outside the clubhouse canít quite make sense of it. You canít walk a block without someone telling you their nickname for Nathan. What they lack in originality they make up for in accuracy.

Down goes Soria

Of course, itís easy to talk about making a change when you have others options, such as Joakim Soria or Joba Chamberlain. Soria came from the Rangers in a trade in July, bringing a gaudy 2.70 ERA and 10.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio with him.

Chamberlain, meanwhile, seemed to be getting the job done every time he took the mound.

How anybody could feel confident thinking about Nathan pitching in razor-thin games in October when two better pitchers waited in the wings is beyond me. Thatís assuming the team still is playing then, which is no guarantee given how recent weeks have gone..

Nathan didnít help his cause with his postgame comments Saturday, showing little concern for what the teamís paying customers think of his recent performance. But he can say what he wants if he gets the outs. Heís just not getting outs.

That all sounds pretty bad. On Sunday morning, it got worse for the Tigers.

Soria, whoíd finally started to look like the reliever the Tigers expected to see when they traded for him weeks earlier, was placed on the disabled list with a left oblique strain. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski put a two- to three-week timetable on the injury. Given oblique injuries can linger, the team has to hope heís right.

Soriaís stint in Detroit may not have started off well, but in his last three appearances he looked like the player they traded for. On Saturday, he entered the game with bases loaded after Nathanís meltdown, and Soria walked off the mound five pitches later without a runner scoring. That fifth pitch did him in.

Options are slim

Scratch one closer possibility off the list, and take away one really good bullpen arm.

And itís not like Chamberlain is Mr. Perfect out there, having now allowed runs in four of his last six appearances, taking the loss in two of them. You can probably scratch another him off the list, too.

So itís Nathan be default, no matter whether you agree with Ausmus on the decision. Thereís just no other good alternative right now.

The Tigers have a problem. A big problem. A problem they thought theyíd solved. Even when they score runs, they canít prevent them.

Just when you thought the late innings were safe, the bullpen bites you again.

Kurt Mensching is editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.

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