When the Twins traded catching prospect Wilson Ramos for Capps just before the Trade Deadline last July, it was partly to have a backup plan for the closer role if Nathan wasn't ready for the start of the 2011 season.
So far, though, things have progressed as well as Nathan could have hoped following the Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery that he had on March 26 last year. He's now almost 11 months removed from the surgery, and when Twins pitchers and catchers hold their first workout on Friday, he'll be there to take part in every drill with his teammates.
Wednesday morning marked the first bullpen session of the spring for Nathan, 36, and the first that he had thrown in front of Anderson in nearly a year. Nathan called the session -- which was about 50 pitches -- "a nice step" physically in his recovery. And the reports from Anderson afterward were glowing.
"I told Joe, 'That's the freest and easiest that I've seen your arm,'" Anderson said. "That's kind of what you look for. The ball came out of his hand good, and the biggest thing is he feels great. He looked really good, not favoring anything. It just looked free and easy."
Nathan said that he'll be on a regular program with the rest of the pitchers when workouts begin officially on Friday. He's been throwing bullpen sessions recently and has even faced a few live hitters when he was working out at home in Knoxville, Tenn. The next big test, Nathan said, will come when he starts throwing in games for the first time.
"When we get into game situations and there's a little extra adrenaline going, I'm sure they'll watch me then," Nathan said. "And we might have to give me a day extra, but a far as leading up to games, everything is going to be a full go."
Nathan, who threw in the bullpen for about 8-10 minutes on Wednesday, seemed happy with the progress that he's made since the surgery. Although there are always question marks coming off a surgery like Tommy John, Nathan feels comfortable with where he's at heading into the first workout.
"I'm pretty satisfied with where I'm at for Feb. 16, with where my command is right now," Nathan said. "I don't need to be super sharp at this point. I'm right where I need to be, if not a little ahead for this time."
Nathan couldn't help but smile when he walked off the mound, which Anderson said was the biggest sign that things are good. And it's clear that he's eagerly anticipating being a part of things once again with his teammates this spring.
"It's big for me to be back on the field," Nathan said. "I look forward to Friday and being out there with everybody, but it's nice coming out here and getting a workout in and knowing that in a couple days we'll be starting our workload again and getting ready to prepare for the 2011 season."
While Nathan has made it clear that his intention this spring is to regain his closer's job, Anderson said that the Twins will have both Capps and Nathan prepared to fill the role. The two pitchers have spoken with each other about the fact that one of them will likely set up at times, and even if Nathan is ready to resume the closer role, he probably won't throw in four or five consecutive games in a row as he did in the past.
And having a little competition is certainly not a bad thing, Anderson said.
"If you come into camp and name one of them a closer, the other one is not competing for it," Anderson said. "I think they both have been very successful at what they are doing closing games, so let them go out and have at it. It's a good thing."