DETROIT -- Joe Nathan spent Spring Training working to prove he can still be an effective closer. After he closed out Monday's Opening Day win over the Twins, a right elbow flexor strain landed the veteran reliever on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday, leaving the Tigers to figure out who will close out games.
Nathan is the third Tigers pitcher to be placed on the DL in the span of a week, joining hard-throwing reliever Bruce Rondon and former American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander. In Nathan's case, at least, the Tigers have a ready replacement.
Joakim Soria, who closed for five seasons in Kansas City and again last year in Texas before joining Detroit in a July non-waiver Trade Deadline deal, will close while Nathan is out. With Rondon already on the 15-day DL with right biceps tendinitis, manager Brad Ausmus said he'll play the eighth inning according to matchups, though he could lean on Joba Chamberlain to handle the role once again like he did for the bulk of last season.
"I think we got a couple guys we could use down there," Ausmus said. "It might depend on who's hitting. Certainly Joba did it for us last year; he would be a guy that we'd consider using. I think if there are lefties coming up, we could use a guy like [Ian] Krol. It might vary day to day."
Nathan had been dealing with soreness in his arm last week as Spring Training wrapped up, according to team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski. Nathan recorded the final out of Monday's win, but he felt pain on the final pitch, a slider off the outside corner that drew a checked swing from Torii Hunter and a strikeout call from home-plate umpire Joe West.
"Actually on the very last pitch he threw, he kind of felt it grab on Monday," Ausmus said. "Then he came in today, played catch and from what he said and how his face looked, you could tell it was bothering him quite a bit.
"Joe, in the time I've known him, he's never said I can't throw and today he kind of, not in so many words, said I probably shouldn't throw today, which tells me it was really bothering him. So that's why we got the MRI."
The MRI exam showed no structural damage, including the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow.
"[Head athletic trainer] Kevin Rand said it's very common," Ausmus said.
Dombrowski said they're "hopeful" Nathan will be ready to return once he's eligible to come off the disabled list in two weeks. At this point, they're relying on rest to allow the strain to heal.
"We're hopeful," Dombrowski said. "That's what we think at this time."
With Nathan out, the Tigers used the roster spot to add a third lefty reliever, recalling Blaine Hardy from Triple-A Toledo. Hardy was one of the final Spring Training cuts, having competed for the second lefty role.
The three-lefty bullpen is aimed towards the upcoming series against the Indians.
"Hardy was real close to making our club as it was," Dombrowski said. "We're in a situation where, going into Cleveland, they've got a lot of left-handed hitters. Brad felt he'd like to have another left-hander in the bullpen, if we had that flexibility."
Nathan missed three weeks with a right flexor muscle strain in 2011 after missing the entire '10 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
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.