Texas Rangers: How Long Does Ron Washington Stick with Joe Nathan?

Mark Swindell@mark_swindellCorrespondent IApril 12, 2012

The Rangers are off to a solid 5-2 start to this young season but could very well be 7-0 with a top-flight closer. 

Their bats have had timely hits and the rotation has been stellar.  The one negative to start the season is also one of GM Jon Daniels biggest gambles: closer Joe Nathan.

When Neftali Feliz was moved to the starting rotation a couple of weeks ago, I asked, "Who would have more saves: Jon Nathan or Neftali Feliz?" 

By the looks of Feliz's first start Tuesday night, he is not getting moved back to the bullpen anytime soon. He was sensational hurling seven shutout innings vs. the Seattle Mariners. No need to tinker with Feliz and get him back to being an All-Star closer.

But for the Rangers to be successful they must make sure Nathan is the man and, if he is not, make an adjustment quickly.

It's possible Nathan will never be the closer he once was. From 2004-2009 Nathan was as good as it gets averaging 41 saves and a sub-2.00 ERA.

Then in spring training prior to the 2010 season, Nathan hurt his arm and missed the entire season. He came back to save just 14 games last year with a very uncharacteristic 4.84 ERA. 

The Rangers all along wanted to move Feliz into the starting rotation but never really had a viable candidate to close. GM Jon Daniels went after Nathan and passed up on Heath Bell and Jonathan Papelbon among others. Yes, Nathan came a little cheaper but not too much.

So if Nathan continues to struggle, and if Feliz continues to prosper in the rotation, who replaces Joe? 

On Thursday, setup man Mike Adams was handed the ball and gave up a run on two hits. Without a doubt, he wants to close and rightfully so. He saw the four-year, $45 million contract Papelbon signed in Philadelphia. Setup men don't get that type of money on the open market.

However, if Adams gets moved to closer, there is no guarantee he continues his string of success as a setup man as a closer, and then the rest of the pen gets adjusted too with Alexi Ogando being moved to setup man.

Back to the main question: How long does Ron Washington stick with Joe Nathan? 

Through seven games, Nathan has two flawless saves, a disastrous meltdown Wednesday night and a loss when he was brought into a tie game. 

If that pattern continues, saving 67 percent of the games will not get it done. If his ERA floats above 4.00 and he is blowing a save a week, Washington will be forced to make a move. 

Whether it's Adams or Ogando or a trade deadline deal, the Rangers can not go into the pennant stretch or postseason with a shaky closer situation.  I give Washington until the end of May to see some consistency and confidence in Nathan.  If still unstable heading into June, his had will be forced.