Nathan leans on sharp slider to strike out side
ANAHEIM -- Joe Nathan has been around the American League long enough to remember when the Rally Monkey first became a thing.
"Yeah, I don't stare at the thing," Nathan said. "It's a known fact that if you catch eyeballs with the monkey, something bad's going to happen. So you have to keep your head down. I've seen it way too many times where I watch the video and I laugh and all of a sudden, 'Aw, man.'"
If he keeps throwing sliders like the ones he threw Thursday night, he won't have to think about superstitions. His ninth inning barely lasted long enough for the Angels to get a Rally Monkey clip on the scoreboard.
He struck out the side in order for just the second time this season, and he needed just 12 pitches -- nine of them strikes -- to do it. The same reliever who drew just six swings and misses over seven innings from May 12-28 drew six whiffs in his latest inning alone. Four of those came on a slider that has become a project of his in recent weeks.
"That was as long as I've seen his slider, I think all year possibly," manager Brad Ausmus said. "It was clear that the hitters weren't picking up the rotation on his slider. It looked like a fastball to them and they swung right over the top.
"That's the slider I remember facing. It looks like a fastball coming in at the bottom of the strike zone, and you start your swing and it just drops out of the strike zone. It almost has a split-finger action to it."
That's the idea.
"I threw the slider in some pretty good spots to make it tough for them to lay off," Nathan said, "but also with two strikes being able to put it in a place."
It also was a difference in mechanics, and not just the lower arm angle he utilized earlier.
"I've been tweaking mechanics and working on different things," he said. "Each time out there, I've had a chance to work on it and get more and more comfortable with it. Now I'm getting to the point where you can get away from mechanics and stop thinking about that."
This would be a good time for that. Thursday's gem came hours after Joakim Soria joined the team following his trade from Texas. He was a closer with the Rangers but set up for Nathan over the second half last season.
Nathan entered Friday having drawn swings and misses on 35.6 percent of his sliders this year (37 whiffs out of 104 swings), up slightly from his 2013 rate in Texas (63 out of 186, 33.9 percent) according to STATS. However, hitters are chasing his slider out of the strike zone a little less often than in 2013.