It might be the most followed game of catch of all-time. And especially to Minnesotans eager for a winner in their brand new ballpark after a long, cold winter.
Joe Nathan will test his elbow - which he knows has a torn ligament - this weekend in Fort Myers, Fla. And if things go badly, the most consistent closer in baseball not named Mariano will have to miss the entire 2010 season after Tommy John ligament transplant surgery.
"It's been, 'You have a tear; can you throw with it?' " Nathan said, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "From a doctor's standpoint, their opinion is more than likely I won't be able to, just from what they've seen. They said it's not impossible."
Not the most optimistic prognosis. And even if he's OK now, there's no guarantee he'll make it through the season, of course. If this seems a bit too much hype over a guy who is not a household name for a lot of baseball fans, they must not follow the Twins. He has 36 saves or more the last six seasons. Since 2004, he has more saves than anybody in the majors (246), the best ERA (1.87) and strikes out 11.9 batters per nine innings. The Twins won the AL Central by one game (a tiebreaker) last season and one game in 2006. It's safe to say Nathan, 35, has made a big difference.
The Twins are trying to keep this game of catch away from the eyes of the public and media. It's rumored to be happening on Saturday.
"Let the guy live in peace here and see if he can throw the ball,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "If he can't and grimaces in pain and goes to the ground, I don't really want you to see that. So let him throw and we'll tell you tomorrow."
But the result should be definitive, Nathan said.
"This is going to be something where there shouldn't be a gray area," Nathan said to the Star Tribune. "On Day 1, I'll definitely know if there will be a Day 2. And the only way there won't be a Day 2, is if I need to get this thing repaired."
Other storylines in Twins camp:
- Just behind Nathan's elbow as a major topic of Twins fans' conversations is the long-term future of Joe Mauer, the game's best catcher and a homegrown talent from St. Paul. It's been rumored that he had a contract in place earlier this winter, but nothing now appears imminent in the last year of his contract. And it's a gamble for both sides.
- Who would take Nathan's spot? Matt Guerrier would be the natural choice, moving a very good setup guy into the role. But Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain or even Francisco Liriano could be a candidate for the role.
- While the Mauer talks have hit a snag, the Twins have locked up a few other core players, such as center fielder Denard Span and starter Nick Blackburn.
- Scott Baker had a slow start last year, but was great in the second half and is likely to be the starter on opening day.
- And of course, the Twins are opening their new ballpark, Target Field, which from the air looks a lot like Progressive Field in Cleveland (but with a little bit of a roof).
Coming Saturday: No. 11 Detroit Tigers.