Many baseball experts don't like the specialized role of a Closer. They say that the ninth inning is just another three outs, and really isn't all that much more special than any other inning. The Save, these people say, is really a silly stat that doesn't indicate anything, and any halfway decent relief pitcher should be able to take care of the ninth. Fair enough.
I, however, have a more romantic view of a Closer. I love how he comes into the ninth, ready to save the day -- or at least the game. He has to have a steel constitution and a fearless heart. He's alone and he has a very important job to do. If he blows it, he can't really call for backup. If he's on the road and blows it, game over...period. At home, he has a small chance that his mates can save his ass, but those mates are facing another motivated Closer. No wonder he comes out to rock and roll music. He'd come out on a white horse if there wasn't a risk it'd crap on the field.
Which explains why I love Joe Nathan so much (and Mariano Rivera, but I don't really want to admit that because he wears a certain NY on his cap). So when my Joe required ligament replacement surgery last year, I was very worried. I was worried about his recovery, I was worried about his age, and I was worried about his slider.
Joe, however, did not have time to worry. He was too busy recovering, rebuilding, and reloading. He arrived to camp ready to go having suffered no set-backs in his rehab, and he went right to work with re-learning his pitches. And, with only less than one week left in camp, he's still had no set-backs.
He's also still trying to find his slider. Aahh, that tricky slider. This is his out-pitch, a very important weapon in is arsenal. It would be nice if that slider comes back right away. Although, if I remember correctly, his slider is always the last pitch to come during camp. And it's not like he's not very good at throwing other pitches (I am absolutely in love with that curveball he drops in for a strike).
With that being said, I like that Matt Capps is on the team. At first I had this little jealous thing against him -- how dare he try to take Joe's job away. But since Gardy indicated that they were going with a "Joe for two days, Matt for one" plan, I was on board. My romantic notions of Closers notwithstanding, I'm really intrigued by this approach, regardless of injury histories or whatnot. Kind of like having a Senior Executive Principal Closer and a Vice Closer.
Certainly, Twins fans should be prepared to lower their expectations of Joe a bit. He is still rehabbing and recovering and rebuilding. And reloading. But, it's a long season, so if he's not "THE Joe Nathan" the first few weeks, fine. He will be soon enough. Eighty percent of "THE Joe Nathan" is still way better than many other Closers.
So, if Joe feels ready for Opening Day, he should pitch Opening Day, if needed. Even if his velocity is down a bit and his slider's not there yet. Because after all, it's only three outs -- any other inning. He's a smart pitcher; he'll be fine.