FORT MYERS, FLA. - If the Twins are clinging to a lead in the first game of a series, the ball is expected to go to righthander Joe Nathan, who is on track to being the closer on Opening Day just a year after Tommy John elbow surgery.
If the Twins are in the same situation the next night, Nathan is expected to get the ball again.
But if there is a third consecutive night of white-knuckle baseball, Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson probably will pick up the phone to the bullpen and ask for righthander Matt Capps.
That's what the Twins plan to do and, instead of their plan billowing into a closer controversy, the two men involved have talked about how mighty of a one-two punch they could be.
"We're both under the same assumption and same thought that we're both going to be finishing games this year," Nathan said.
Said Capps: "If we are both healthy and both on top of our game, it's going to be a pretty damn strong bullpen."
The two spoke briefly about their situation last season, as Nathan was working out at Target Field and Capps was preparing for a game. Capps told Nathan then that he was looking forward to working with him in 2011.
"I knew it was gonna happen and I hoped that he would come back healthy," Capps said, "because if he's healthy and I'm healthy and everyone is rolling along, we are going to be pretty tough.
"When it's all said and done at this time next year, if we have a ring on our finger, nobody is going to care."
The arrangement is contingent upon Nathan continuing to prove he's ready for action following reconstructive elbow surgery in March. Nathan has not had one setback since the moment he was wheeled out of surgery. He threw live batting practice Thursday and was very pleased with his outing.
Nathan, 36, still has to prove he's got it all back -- his stuff and his control -- and will get that chance once spring training games begin on Sunday.
"I don't see any reason why I won't be out there Opening Day," Nathan said.
Nathan has 247 career saves, including three seasons of at least 43. In 2009, he was 2-2 with a 2.10 ERA and a career-high 47 saves. A chance for another 40-plus save season looks iffy if the Twins are careful with him throughout the season and give Capps some closing opportunities.
"Even if he feels great, you wouldn't take him and do what we did before," Anderson said. "That would be crazy."
Then Anderson joked, "We'll have to win two close ones in a row, then have a blowout the next day."
Capps, 27, saved 42 games between the Twins and Nationals last season and was a National League All-Star for the first time. The Twins dealt top catching prospect Wilson Ramos on July 29 for Capps, partially because they wanted an option in case Nathan wouldn't be ready. The Twins signed Capps to a one-year, $7.1 million contract to avoid arbitration this season -- a salary that is more like a closer's contract than a set-up man's.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire wanted both relievers to come to camp prepared to close because that's what they are used to doing and that mind-set benefits the team in the long run.
Nathan "wants to close because he feels he'll be all the way back when he gets his closer job back, and that's probably the mind-set that he has to have to get him over the hump," Gardenhire said. "So I understand exactly what he's talking about. Capps, same thing, he wants to close, but he'll do anything it takes to win. He doesn't have an issue with that. That mind-set of those two guys is pretty good."
Gardenhire was not kidding about Capps' willingness to do anything to win.
"If Gardy asks me to play shortstop and we end up winning the World Series, that's what I'll do," Capps said.
Nathan liked hearing that, too.
"That's what I love about our relationship," Nathan said. "We're both under the same agreement that we want to win and want to get back to the postseason."