MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins closer Joe Nathan has been nearly perfect the past three weeks. He just hasn't had many chances to show it. In just his sixth save opportunity of the season -- and first since May 10 -- Nathan shut down the Mariners' hopes for a comeback Friday night to finish off a 3-1 Twins victory. The two-time All-Star has converted the save every time he's had an opportunity. The right-hander's half dozen attempts rank last among American League closers. A pair of teams even have two relievers with more save opportunities than Nathan.
"It's a situation where things haven't gone the way we've planned it," Nathan said. "It's not like we're out here trying to get save situations, we're trying to win games. "You know, saves come in bunches, and I know there's going to be times where it's going to be slow. I'm going through one of those slow stages, but anytime, it could pick up. It's just a matter of trying to stay sharp." That could be an understatement. Nathan's numbers are staggering. Since May 7, he's retired 21-of-22 batters, including his last 15. Two-thirds of those outs have come via the strikeout. The only blemish came on a solo home run by Chicago's Joe Crede on May 15 -- a non-save opportunity when the Twins trailed by three runs. Manager Ron Gardenhire simply wants Nathan's pitches to count. "It's just a matter of getting him in games that mean something," Gardenhire said. "That's what he thrives on. That's what we need to get him in more of. "But he's game-on, believe me. He's looking for these situations. He wants them." This week, Gardenhire's sure-handed closer took advantage of every one of them. Against the Indians on Tuesday, Nathan struck out five of the six batters he faced en route to picking up his second victory of the season after the Twins came back in the 10th. On Friday against the Mariners, Nathan faced Richie Sexson, Carl Everett and Adrian Beltre, retiring the trio on just 11 pitches. Sexson and Beltre popped up to the infield. Everett struck out looking. "The last two times out I felt pretty good, and I've had pretty much three pitches going, at least, sometimes four, that I've been able to throw for strikes," Nathan said. "I've just been able to keep guys off-balance and keep them guessing, especially on the first pitch." And when Nathan's on, Gardenhire can relax. "We don't worry about him," he said. "You worry about not getting him in."
Jason Brummond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.