Relievers must be able to pitch in consecutive games, sometimes three games in a row. if a team has a reliever who needs a day off after every appearance it put stress on the rest of the bullpen.
That's why the handling of Joe Nathan in his comeback from Tommy John surgery is a big issue with the Twins.
The Twins want to limit Nathan's workload. They spoke to the Braves about how they handled Billy Wagner in his first year following the same surgery and were told to avoid Nathan in back-to-back games early on.
But, after getting the save on Friday, Nathan was warming up in the bullpen on Saturday, ready to enter the game if needed.
Nathan said his his elbow felt tender after spring training outings - not to the point where he needed an extra day off. That tenderness has decreased in recent weeks.
So there's already been a modification in how Nathan will be used. Now the Twins are more open to using Nathan in back-to-back games - provided Nathan is not coming off of a laborious outing the day before. Let's not underestimate Nathan's ability to lobby for this.
He appreciates that flexibility because he doesn’t want the bullpen to be more short-handed than it has to be.
``Don’t say I can’t throw back-to-back games because that will cripple us,’’ Nathan said.
Gardenhire prefers to keep Matt Capps in an eighth-inning role and have the rest of the bullpen fall into place after that. The manager, however, is also worried that recent outings by other relievers might force him to use Capps in the seventh as well. He doesn't want to do that, but he's got relievers entering games and walking the first batter.
Knowing Nathan can be available to close more than every other day - occasionally - will be one less headache
``When you settle it at the end it makes it easier for the rest to fall into place.,’’ he said. ``There are things we are going to have to guard against, and that is overuse of Nathan’s arm early.’’