MILWAUKEE – As the New York Yankees moved toward ending the bidding war for Aroldis Chapman, the Cubs welcomed Joe Nathan into their clubhouse, hoping a six-time All-Star closer can become a game changer for their bullpen.
At the age of 41 – and after two Tommy John surgeries on his right elbow – Nathan won’t be throwing 105 mph like Chapman could soon at Wrigley Field. But even if the Cubs aren’t getting Nathan at the height of his powers, it’s still another potential upgrade before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
“We’ll see,” said Nathan, who earned his first win since September 2014 by throwing a scoreless sixth inning during Sunday’s 6-5 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. “These guys obviously have done something special the first half of the season and put themselves in a great (position) to make the postseason.
“Time will tell who is the right fit. And if they’re going to make more moves, who knows? I’m sure they’re checking to see what’s out there. But for us, we just want to concentrate on today and getting a ‘W.’”
Nathan showed his guts, experience and presence by recovering from a leadoff triple and a walk to strike out the heart of Milwaukee’s order – Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter – and keep the Cubs within three runs before a seventh-inning comeback.
That’s the dimension the Cubs wanted to add to their bullpen, activating off the 60-day disabled list a reliever who’s eighth on the all-time list with 377 career saves and optioning Adam Warren to Triple-A Iowa to stretch him out as an extra starter.
The Cubs believe Nathan is still hungry, even after making more than $85 million in his career, wanting to write a different ending after facing only one hitter with the Detroit Tigers last year, his season ending on Opening Day.
Nathan was willing to take the prorated major-league minimum, sweat through the heat at the team’s Arizona complex and try to find himself again at Double-A Tennessee and Iowa.
“Right from Day 1, it really wasn’t a question of if I’m going to try to come back from this,” Nathan said. “Why not? Why wouldn’t I at least put my best foot forward? If I’m going to rehab it, I might as well go 100 percent at it and see where it goes.
“The good test for me was I was living at home, going through it, bringing the kids to school, doing homework, doing normal stuff. At the same time, I still had the itch.
“That kind of told me, too. If I was home, and I was like, ‘You know what, this is kind of nice,’ it would have been easy to just say: ‘No, I’m good.’ But I still had that kick in the butt to get up and come back to this game.”
This is what Nathan wanted, to be back in the middle of a pennant race and dropped into the biggest story in baseball.
“I almost needed a defibrillator for the run into the mound,” Nathan said. “I was just trying to calm myself down.”