MILWAUKEE – Joe Nathan admitted to more nerves than he would have liked Sunday when the reliever made his Chicago Cubs debut.
“It was Opening Day for me,” said the 41-year-old former Twins star, making a comeback from his second Tommy John surgery. “And the adrenaline was through the roof. I almost needed a defibrillator for the run to the mound.”
After a visit by pitching coach Chris Bosio, Nathan regain the composure and effectiveness that helped him earn 377 saves over a 15-year career by striking out Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter in succession with runners at second and third to end the sixth inning, eventually winding up with the victory. The Cubs beat the Brewers 6-5, showing their mettle by scoring five runs in the seventh.
“I knew it was a fun team watching them on TV, but [it’s] even more so when you’re a part of them,” Nathan said.
Nathan’s odyssey began when he gave up a leadoff triple to Jonathan Villar and a walk to Hernan Perez. That prompted a visit from Bosio, and Nathan settled down.
“His velocity came up and everything got better, inning in progress,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Watching from the sidelines, he taught himself a good lesson in a good moment.”
Nathan pitched for the Twins from 2004 to 2011, picking up 260 saves for the team, which had acquired him in a trade with the San Francisco Giants that also brought Francisco Liriano to Minnesota. He missed the 2010 season because of Tommy John surgery and had that surgery for a second time last year.
Since leaving the Twins, he has also pitched for Texas and Detroit.
He signed with the Cubs earlier this season and had worked his way through the minors, including a stop in Des Moines this month.