Rangers' Nathan relishes All-Star nod

The former Twins closer showed his old team why he was selected to his fifth All-Star Game at age 37.

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Joe Nathan

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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ARLINGTON, TEXAS — Scouts at Rangers Ballpark last week had Joe Nathan's fastball topping out at 96 miles per hour and his slider biting across the plate at 90 during an outing against Oakland.

Those are numbers Nathan hit early in his career with the Twins as he established himself as a top closer in the game. Nathan, 37, missed all of 2010 because of Tommy John surgery but has come all the way back, and then some, as he has been chosen for the American League All-Star team for the fifth time in his career.

He pitched scoreless ninth and 10th innings Saturday against his old team, earning the victory when Texas scored in the bottom of the 10th to beat the Twins 4-3. With his first two-inning outing since Aug. 21, 2009, he lowered his ERA to 1.77, to go along with a 1-2 record and 18 saves.

Going through rehab and dealing with a rough year of recovery last year with the Twins makes this year's All-Star appointment even more meaningful to him.

"This one definitely means more to me, for sure, getting back," he said before the game. "After being asked questions about whether I'll ever make it back, I think this answers those questions. And I proved it to myself, all the questions that I had, the doubts that I personally had -- will I make it back to that level? So this definitely means more to me than the others. Even though the others are special in their own way."

Since the Rangers were on a five-game losing streak, Saturday's outing was the first in a week for Nathan. But his 279 saves in 312 opportunities make him the all-time leader in save percentage at 89.42 -- just past Mariano Rivera at 89.28.

Nathan left the Twins as a free agent after going 2-1 with a 4.84 ERA and 14 saves in what now looks like a recovery 2011 season. He wasn't sure which direction the Twins were headed when he left, but he couldn't have landed in a better situation.

"He's a good pitcher. He's a hard worker," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I don't think anybody is going to do more than he did to get back on the field. He was working hard at it from the first time he got a chance to pick up a baseball. He never quit on his rehab. He didn't back off a bit. He has that special desire and ability and he uses it."

Post-break rotation

The Twins are still trying to determine what the starting rotation will look like after the All-Star break. P.J. Walters looks ready to rejoin the rotation after throwing five shutout innings for Class AAA Rochester on Friday.

The Twins are thinking about leaving Walters at Rochester for one more rehabilitation start before activating the righthander from the disabled list because he won't be able to start for the Twins until next weekend.

Etc.

• Plate umpire Marty Foster left Saturday's game in the top of the seventh because of a stomach virus. Second base ump and crew chief Jeff Kellogg took over.

• Outfielder Byron Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick in the June draft, was 2-for-4 with his first professional home run Saturday for the Twins' rookie team in the Gulf Coast League.

• Outfielder Joe Benson, on the mend after wrist surgery, has been transferred to Class A Fort Myers after going 3-for-6 in his past two games with the Gulf Coast League club. Benson broke his hamate bone in May.

• The Twins wore 1994 road uniforms on Saturday, and the Rangers wore uniforms from that season to commemorate the first year of Rangers Ballpark.

• Twins assistant GM Rob Antony, with the club during the road trip, left for a day to attend the funeral for pitcher Paul Bargas, who died from brain cancer at age 23. The Twins traded for him in 2010, but he was unable to throw a single pitch for them.

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