Lakeland, Fla. – Tigers manager Brad Ausmus spent some extra time watching closer Joe Nathan's bullpen session Wednesday.
"Just to see the action on his slider," Ausmus said. "I have faced Joe Nathan. When he's right, I think of some of the best sliders I've seen – Brad Lidge, Robb Nen, Joe Nathan are at the top of the list. Mostly I was looking to see his fastball command and the action on the slider."
So, what did he think?
"I thought he looked good," he said.
Nathan, 40, is coming off his worst full season since he became a full-time reliever in 2002. Traditionally, 40-year-old pitchers don't have big bounce-back seasons. Ausmus, though, isn't buying that.
"In Joe's case, I look at last year as more of an aberration and less as a result of the aging process," he said. "That's why I'm not as concerned about it."
Ausmus acknowledged that the career of every player, pitcher or otherwise, has a down slope as they get past a certain age. But their production levels don't always simply fall off the cliff.
"The reason I say that I am not concerned is because he was so good in October of 2013," he said. "And over the course of four months he didn't age that much. As much as you want to look at an older player when he struggles and point to age, I just don't see Joe's struggles were a result of his age. I couldn't imagine it would be that much of a dropoff."
Ausmus said a combination of poor mechanics – it took him nearly three-quarters of the season to lower his arm slot – and transitioning to a new team contributed to his struggles.
"Joe's been around a long time," Ausmus said. "He's a pro and he goes about his business the same regardless of what's going on around him. I know he feels good about where his arm slot is right now."
As the battle continues between James McCann and Bryan Holaday for the second catchers spot, Ausmus was asked if McCann might be in a similar position as rookie outfielder Steven Moya – perhaps better served with another year in Triple-A should he not win a regular playing time with the Tigers.
"It would be something that we'd have to talk about," he said. "It's something that would certainly have to be a discussion, not only with the coaches but probably Dave (Dombrowski) and Al (Avila), as well."
He added later, "It's not only what is best for the Tigers, but you also have to think a little bit what's best for James McCann's career."
… Both Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria threw side sessions Wednesday, while the other group of pitchers scheduled to throw threw live batting practice. It Chamberlain's first session with the team after signing Tuesday. As for Soria, Ausmus said he just wanted one more bullpen before he threw to live hitters.