Tigers' Nathan out for season but 'not done yet'

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Joe Nathan: "I am happy with the way my career has gone. But I am not done yet."

Detroit – Joe Nathan doesn't want to talk about his legacy; not yet.

"I am happy with the way my career has gone," he said. "But I am not done yet."

Nathan got the word last night that, at age 40, he will need Tommy John surgery to repair both a torn UCL ligament and a torn flexor pronator tendon in his right elbow. The news came nearly five years to the day that he had his first Tommy John surgery in 2010.

"Yeah, that actually crossed my mind," he said.

This season is over. Since he is in the last year of his contract, his brief tenure with the Tigers is probably over.

His career, if he has anything to say about it, is not over.

"Yesterday was a very tough day," he said. "But now that I know what's in front of me, one thing I have always been able to do is grind it out and work and push through things. It's actually fun for me. It's something I enjoy. My whole career, it's never been easy for me.

"I will rehab and do everything I am supposed to do as if I am coming back to be a Major League pitcher. That is my goal, to come back and pitch again."

But even if he doesn't make it back, and not many can come back from a second ligament replacement surgery at 40, Nathan said he needs the surgery purely for quality of life reasons.

"Yeah, more importantly, the rehab will be good for the rest of my life," he said. "It's something I need to do to get strong again, to be able to play catch with my kid, to play golf. But I am preparing myself to be a Major League player."

With 377 career saves, Nathan is the active leader and he ranks seventh all-time. Not bad for a Division III shortstop who didn't convert to pitching until his second year in professional baseball.

"The thing you can say about Joe Nathan is he was really tested because he was on a ton of playoff teams and had a ton of success," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's unfortunate what he's going through. I don't think any player really wants to go out that way.

"I'm not sure what he'll do but being 40 years old, I'm sure there's a lot of thought maybe it's his last pitch. God bless him if he does (come back) but Joe Nathan's a winner and he's used to winning."

Tigers fans only got to see Nathan at his best when he was pitching for other teams. He saved 36 games against the Tigers and 36 in one season and one game with them.

"You feel bad for him," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "It's certainly a devastating blow to Joe, and it's a devastating blow for the team."

Nathan, who said he had a cortisone shot on the Saturday before Opening Day, was placed on the DL on April 7. He seemed on track to return this week but he felt a pop in his forearm on the 10th pitch of his rehab outing in Toledo Wednesday.

He said he felt no pain whatsoever during his pre-game bullpen.

"I knew when I heard the pop that something wasn't right," he said. "I wound up ripping two things with one pitch."

He hasn't yet set a surgery date.

"Is this the way I wanted this year to go? Obviously not," he said. "I would have liked to be a part of this club and help us win and make our bullpen deeper. The guys have been doing a tremendous job and I want to be a part of it.

"I will do what I've done the last 14 games – be a cheerleader and root the boys on."

Joe Nathan's best work came against the Tigers, not for them.

Asked about his legacy, Nathan said that talk can wait.

"My mindset is still, let's do what we need to get my (butt) back in this game," he said. "Regardless of what the future holds, the only way I know how to attack something is go at it 110 percent and prepare myself to come back and play this game.

"Hanging up my cleats has never crossed my mind. My motto has always been, throw until you blow. Unfortunately, yesterday, it did blow."

He knows, with two tears, the surgery is going to be more intensive than the one five years ago. So, while hopeful, he's also realistic.

"I know what's in front of me," he said. "I am also smart enough to know if things don't work out, I have nothing to be upset about. I've played baseball until I was 40 years old. If you would have told me when I started I would be playing when I was 40, I would've been ecstatic.

"I am proud of my career, proud of the things I have done. But it's always been about hard work and getting myself ready. This will be no different."

Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky