LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — Last year, the Detroit Tigers never fully settled on a closer. With the arrival of Joe Nathan, that shouldn't be a problem this season.
The rest of the bullpen looks pretty good, too.
The Tigers added in the offseason Ian Krol — in a trade with Washington —and free agent right-hander Joba Chamberlain, who had a rough year with the New York Yankees but showed up to Tiger Town in great shape. Despite moving dependable Drew Smiley into the starting rotation, new manager Brad Ausmus is confident he has enough depth and experience now to fill out the 'pen.
"Nathan is set as the closer, but after that it's wide open," said Ausmus, who then rattled off six pitchers who would appear good fits for the other six bullpen spots.
Nathan is coming off one of the best seasons of his professional career. He had 43 saves for the Rangers with a 1.39 ERA, but he was ready to move — only to a contender.
"This team wants to win," Nathan said of the three-time AL Central champions. "I want to play for a champion. I don't know about last year, but I want to do my job here."
He's got plenty of support from his new teammates, as well as former Texas teammate Ian Kinsler who was traded to the Tigers during the offseason for Cecil Fielder.
"This team has a great deal of defense and with a closer like Joe Nathan, there's no reason to not be confident in the ninth inning," Kinsler said.
Starting pitcher Justin Verlander said he feels a lot more confident coming into the season with a deep bullpen, knowing that the ball is likely to go to Nathan in the ninth.
"You always want to feel good when they start going to the bullpen," Verlander said. "We are deep in there and knowing that (Nathan) is back there makes it comfortable to come out of the game."
Along with the additions of Nathan, Krol and Chamberlain, the Tigers also have Bruce Rondon who can reach 100 mph. He was the "closer in waiting" last season but, at only 23, Rondon started the season at Triple-A Toledo. He came up to the Tigers at midseason and had a respectable 3.45 ERA in 30 games. He still could be the Tigers' closer of the future but this year he'll have a chance to learn from the pitcher with 341 career saves.
NOTES: Ausmus decided to stretch out a bit by throwing batting practice. He said he never pitched in a major league game. ... Every position player took bunting practice including 1B Miguel Cabrera. Ausmus said it was a formality and that if Cabrera ever tried to bunt during a game it would be on his own.