Nathan has cut on right hand

Closer allowed game-tying home run in the eighth inning vs. Orioles

Nathan has cut on right hand

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers' closer job is not up for grabs, manager Brad Ausmus said. Nevertheless, the Tigers' closer has an issue with his grip.

While Joe Nathan pitched for a second consecutive day, trying to see how his arm responds to the rigors of the job, he allowed a game-tying home run to Jayson Nix off a hanging slider in the eighth inning of the Tigers 6-4 win over the Orioles on Thursday.

Nathan finished out the inning, but had a conference afterwards in the dugout with Ausmus, pitching coach Jeff Jones and trainer Matt Rankin.

The issue at hand involved his right hand.

"The thumbnail looked like it was cutting into his thumb," Ausmus said. "He was bleeding. He had [blood] all over his pants, so he must have been wiping it off the whole time. Certainly, that was an issue."

Nathan had left the clubhouse by the time reporters emerged from Ausmus' office.

Nathan threw just five pitches, his fastball ranging at 89-90 miles per hour according to a scout in attendance. His hanging slider came in at 84. It was a drop from his previous outing, but the bigger issue for him at this point is command.

Nathan already was scheduled to have three days off after the back-to-back outings, according to Ausmus.

"We hope it'll be healed by then," Ausmus said.

Nathan ended up getting the win thanks to Victor Martinez's home run in the bottom of the inning.

Joakim Soria pitched a clean ninth inning for the save, culminating in a called third strike that improved his spring to seven innings of one-hit shutout ball with three walks and six strikeouts. Soria hasn't allowed a baserunner since a walk on March 12, when he was dealing with a blister on his thumb.

"I felt good after my first outing," Soria said. "I'm just trying to stay closed [in my delivery]."

Asked if there's a competition for the closer's spot, Ausmus simply shook his head.

"The answer is no," Ausmus said. "I guess it's tough to quote [the head-shake], so I'll say no."

Thus, Soria is set to enter the season as the setup man. It's the defined role he didn't have after coming over from Texas in a trade last July, but it's not the back-end role he's had for most of his career.

"That's what I was doing my whole career," he said. "It's something that I know. I'm not excited about it, but being setup is not that different. I love this game and I love it anywhere I pitch."

Nathan's spring remains largely defined by the March 12 unraveling he had against the Phillies, who scored six runs (four earned) on five hits against Nathan after struggling offensively for most of the spring.

Nathan regrouped from there to post three consecutive perfect innings, but has suffered some damage lately, allowing two runs on five hits over 2 2/3 innings in his last three games. Thursday marked his first home run allowed this spring.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.