CHICAGO — At the age of 40, Joe Nathan was told he would need a second Tommy John surgery. That would have ended most careers, and Nathan remembers friends asking him about retirement just minutes after the injury. That's part of the reason he's back in the big leagues.
"I wanted to prove to myself I can still do it," Nathan said Saturday morning. "A lot of times it's about preparation and how hard it becomes to prepare, but it hasn't gotten to that point for me. Preparation is still fun. My ultimate motivation is to win a ring, and from there, it'll be kind of nice to prove people wrong."
The Giants are hoping Nathan proves them right. Two decades after they drafted him in the sixth round, they brought him up from Double-A Richmond to bolster the bullpen. Nathan signed a minor league deal August 19 and he said general manager Bobby Evans told him right away that there was no promise of reaching the big leagues. He went out and threw six scoreless innings, and the Giants liked what they saw. Manager Bruce Bochy said Nathan will be used in the sixth and seventh innings, and he could get eighth-inning work with Derek Law on the DL.
"He's been throwing the ball well down there," Bochy said. "With Law down, we feel we could use some help from the right side, and he'll help us late in the ballgame. His experience is going to help us, and more importantly, he's been throwing the ball well."
Bochy is hopeful the 41-year-old can help out some of his young relievers. Nathan sounded up for it, and he said he enjoyed his time in Richmond, noting that he had a lot of fun before a midnight call Friday telling him to get to Chicago. Nathan said he is locating well on the mound, and he has no physical restrictions. He can go multiple innings or back-to-back days.
The Giants originally took Nathan in the 1995 draft and he pitched parts of four seasons in San Francisco. He was traded to Minnesota in the infamous A.J. Pierzynski deal and immediately blossomed into one of the best closers in baseball. Nathan has 377 career saves while pitching for five different teams. What could he have done in San Francisco?
"I've never tried 'what-ifs' and stuff. I've just been very fortunate with what happened," he said. "They say everything happens for a reason. I got a huge opportunity with the Twins and that success paved the road for me. That trade ended up working out for, I guess, the Twins and White Sox. But the Giants have done a pretty good job of putting together championship teams and hopefully we can do it again this year."
To clear a 40-man roster spot for Nathan, the Giants put minor league reliever Ray Black on the 60-day DL with a right elbow bone spur. The move gives Bochy six left-handed relievers and seven right-handers, with Jake Peavy also on the comeback trail. Nathan, a six-time All-Star, is already being counted on in big spots. He said he's up for the challenge and happy to be a Giant again. Evans, pitching coach Dave Righetti, bullpen coach Mark Gardner and many others were part of the organization during his first tour.
"They still look the same to me," he said, smiling.