Nathan, on the mound Wednesday night for the Rangers.
It doesn't take much to generate doubt as a closer.
The high wire nature of the job means that a couple of shaky outings, even if they don't result in blown saves, is enough to get people talking about your future in the job. Having two of those outings in the first six games of the season is a guarantee that the conversation will begin.
That's where we find ourselves with Joe Nathan after Wednesday night's ninth-inning meltdown against the Mariners took the Rangers from a 3-1 lead to 4-3 losers. Nathan gave up four hits before he could get three outs thanks to a meaty slider and a curveball that wasn't fooling hitters even a little bit.
Ron Washington said after the game that he didn't think Nathan threw the ball poorly. While we'll always love Wash's boundless optimism in his team, that comment reminds us that his career OPS+ as a player was just 79. You'd have to be a well below average hitter to think that Nathan was throwing well on Wednesday night.
Every pitcher is entitled to a rough night now and again, but what's a bit distressing about Nathan's two losses is that both have them have come on the second night of back-to-back appearances. One of Nathan's strongest suits as a pitcher over the course of his career has been his reliability in such situations -- he saved 102 of 107 save chances with no day of rest coming into the season -- but he's 37 and hasn't been used that way much since his 2010 Tommy John surgery.
A team that hopes to be as good as the Rangers hope to be this season needs to have a closer who can go two days in a row with some frequency over the course of the season. You could open things up to a committee system by using Alexi Ogando and Mike Adams to keep things fresh, but that doesn't seem to be the way the Rangers want to handle their bullpen.
So that means Nathan has to do the job or he has to be replaced as the man with the ball in his hand with the game on the line. Right now, the needle on the Panicmeter isn't jumping too much -- two games is still two games -- but it has moved past zero and will be zooming higher with another bad outing in the near future.
We don't yet have our first crisis of the young season, but it feels like we have a good idea of what it might be.