Nathan helps Rangers with a makeover

  • Article by: STEPHEN HAWKINS , Associated Press
  • Updated: November 22, 2011 - 10:27 PM

Signing the former Twins closer frees up Neftali Feliz to join the Texas rotation.

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Newly signed Texas Rangers pitcher Joe Nathan

Photo: Richard W. Rodriguez, Associated Press

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ARLINGTON, TEXAS - Back-to-back American League championships got the Texas Rangers another prize in veteran Joe Nathan.

The Rangers' new closer was formally introduced by the team Tuesday, on his 37th birthday, with a $14.5 million, two-year deal that includes an option for a third year.

Nathan said knowing what kind of team the Rangers have and their recent success were significant factors in his decision. A meeting with team officials, including team president and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, also helped.

"I've been able to admire this squad from the other side of the diamond, and I just really feel this club is such a perfect fit for myself, for my family," Nathan said. "Obviously them getting to the postseason, getting into the World Series is definitely huge."

With the acquisition of the four-time All-Star closer who spent the past eight years with the Twins, the Rangers will move hard-throwing righthander Neftali Feliz to the rotation. Feliz has starting experience, primarily in the minor leagues.

"Not always do we get to announce one move that impacts the bullpen, the rotation and also the clubhouse, and strengthens all three," General Manager Jon Daniels said. "What we talked about if we were going to move Neftali to the rotation, we wanted a big-time guy at the back end, and we feel really good that we've accomplished that."

Moving Feliz to the rotation would help offset the loss of free agent C.J. Wilson if the lefthanded starter signs elsewhere.

Nathan has worn No. 36 throughout his 11 seasons in the major leagues, the same number Wilson has worn with the Rangers. The Rangers presented Nathan with a No. 63 jersey Tuesday.

Daniels said he contacted Wilson's agent before Nathan's deal was announced and the Rangers have not closed the door on getting their 16-game winner back for next season. Daniels said there were conversations with Wilson's agent, but no meeting was set. Nathan will get $7 million for each of the next two seasons. There is a $9 million option for 2014 that includes a $500,000 buyout.

Nathan missed the 2010 season following Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow and struggled to find his form with the Twins this past season. He went 2-1 with a 4.84 ERA and 14 saves in 48 appearances, losing his job as closer early in the season before reclaiming it later.

After missing nearly a month on the disabled list last season, he pitched well in the second half, saving 11 games and holding opposing batters to a .207 average while increasing his strikeout-to-walk ratio.

"I really feel like when I came back off the disabled list last year, when I came back in June, that was a huge turning point," Nathan said. "It seemed like each month, July, August, September, continuously it got better and better for me. The way I felt, the way I was finishing pitches, my breaking stuff got a lot sharper and it started coming back, and the feel started coming back for me with each month."

In 581 major league games for San Francisco (1999-2000, 2002-03) and Minnesota (2004-11), Nathan has a 48-23 record with a 2.87 ERA and 261 saves. He is fifth among active pitchers in saves, trailing only Mariano Rivera (603), Francisco Cordero (327), Jason Isringhausen (300) and Francisco Rodriguez (291).

Nathan has had success at Rangers Ballpark and against AL West opponents. In 13 appearances at Texas, he was eight of nine in save chances with a 1.98 ERA. He has a 1.75 career ERA against AL West teams with 11 strikeouts per nine innings.

Feliz, who is home in the Dominican Republic, issued a statement through the team saying he was happy the decision was made early, giving him plenty of time to prepare as a starter. He joins a rotation that still has returning starters Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando. Scott Feldman, a 17-game winner in 2009 before right knee surgery, is also an option.

Feliz set a then-major league rookie record with 40 saves in 2010. He had 32 saves this season, but also gave up a two-out, two-run triple to David Freese in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6 of the World Series. The Cardinals went on to win that game in 11 innings, then won Game 7 to deny the Rangers their first World Series title.

Daniels said the blown save in Game 6 had nothing to do with the decision to move Feliz to the rotation.

Nathan was watching that game and was about the turn his TV off, anticipating a game-ending third out.

"I was kind of floored. ... It's part of baseball it happens in the game," Nathan said.

Asked if would have been able to finish that game, Nathan responded, "I'd like to be in that situation to find out."

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