I spoke with Twins closer Joe Nathan this week about a variety of topics for a project I'm working on, and I found it interesting that he broached the subject of his blown save in the playoffs.
Nathan lives in Tennessee in the offseason and works out with other players at the University of Tennessee. While he's always worked out religiously before games, he said his problems at the end of last season have helped him increase the intensity of his offseason workouts.
He also had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. That procedure, along with his workouts, have him sounding quite optimistic.
``I'm using the playoffs as my motivating tool,'' Nathan said. ``I always say that there are positives that come away from negatives. I know I still have a lot of work to do and I need to get back into shape and get into better shape, so when we get back in those situations I'll be better than ever.
``And, yes, I do say `When' we get back in those situations, because we will get back there. And that makes me push even harder.''
Nathan said he didn't have to have surgery, but thought it would be best for his career. ``I could have went without surgery and probably pitched next season, but what they said was if I don't get this done, eventually the bone spurs start to tear the tendons and the cartilage and cause problems,'' Nathan said. ``This is the time to do it. I have time to recover, and I won't be blowing it out in the middle of the season.
``As far as performing last year, the bone spurs had nothing to do with it. I just faced the wrong hitter at the wrong time. I had a tough outing. We'll come back and be better for it.''
My colleague Patrick Reusse and I have differed on Nathan. Patrick wants him traded; I think we've all been too spoiled by Eddie Guardado and Nathan this decade, and have forgotten what it's like to watch a team that doesn't have a closer capable of piling up 40 saves every year.
With Nathan, the Twins have contended virtually every season. Without him, I doubt they would be receiving so much praise as a model franchise. Closers are like money; they seem important only when you don't have them.
Series of Random Thoughts (SORT)
-I love the way Chuck Fletcher has made subtle, under-the-radar moves that have helped the Wild. I don't know if this team is talented enough to make the playoffs, but I think the Fletcher/Todd Richards combination is very promising, now that the players are starting to adapt to Richards' system.
-Does it seem strange to anyone else that the Wolves have just two victories, and nobody's really complaining? As a colleague just noted, David Kahn has done as good a job managing low expectations as he has managing cap space.
-I wouldn't expect the Twins to sign any long-term free agent deals this winter. They have a lot of money due their own players in 2011; I would look for them to offer one-year deals to Carl Pavano and Joe Crede, and hope those veterans can at least bolster the roster until the youngsters take charge. If Crede gave them a good half-season, that might be enough time for Danny Valencia to prepare himself to play in the big leagues. And there is the possibility that Crede would actually give the Twins a good full season.
Upcoming: Sunday Sports Talk (10-noon on KSTP am-1500) will feature Vikings coach Brad Childress (can't guarantee it, but it looks like a good chance, and we'll probably start the show with him) and St. Thomas football coach Glenn Caruso, among others. St. Thomas plays Linfield, Oregon, on Saturday in the third round of the DIII playoffs, and I featured St. Thomas center Josh Ostrue in today's paper. Nice, personable, kid who flattens a lot of linebackers.
I'm traveling to Arizona for the Vikings game, and will blog again on Sunday from the stadium.
Congratulations to my KSTP colleague Matt Thomas, who is leaving for a station in Houston. He is a genuinely nice guy.
My pick: Vikings 30, Cardinals 20. As they did during their winning streak in 1998, the Vikings are facing a lot of teams at the right time.