WASHINGTON -- With the start of Spring Training just two weeks away, and the Nationals' search for a closer ongoing, the club has given Joe Nathan a chance to prolong his career with a right elbow that has been twice repaired by Tommy John surgery.
The Nats signed Nathan and another veteran right-handed reliever, Matt Albers, to Minor League contracts, the team announced on Tuesday afternoon.
Though the Nationals' rotation is solid enough to strengthen the team's bid for a second straight National League East crown, the holes that exist within the bullpen warranted the low-risk signings of these two veteran relievers, who will come to Spring Training with a chance to earn a roster spot.
Nathan underwent his second Tommy John surgery during the first month of the 2015 season and then totaled just 6 1/3 innings while combining to make 10 appearances for the Cubs and Giants last year. The 42-year-old right-hander did not allow a run over those 10 appearances, but he completed a full inning in just five of them.
The Nationals will likely enter Spring Training with Shawn Kelley, who has also undergone two Tommy John surgeries, as their top candidate for the closer's role. But if Nathan proves healthy enough to overcome the odds that await him, he could have a chance to move back into this role, which he has successfully filled throughout most of his 16-season big league career.
Nathan ranks eighth on the all-time list with 377 career saves, and his 89.1 percent successful save conversion rate ranks fourth all-time -- first among those who have compiled at least 260 saves. But his most recent save was converted on Sept. 28, 2014, while pitching for the Tigers.
Nationals manager Dusty Baker is familiar with Nathan. The two were together when the pitcher broke into the Major Leagues in 1999, and he found a spot within the Giants' starting rotation. Nathan became a reliever after he, Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano landed in Minnesota via the November 2003 trade that sent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to San Francisco.
Albers will enter Nationals camp looking to bounce back after posting a 6.31 ERA in 58 appearances for the White Sox last year. The 34-year-old had posted a 1.21 ERA over 37 1/3 innings with Chicago in 2015, earning a one-year, $2.25 million contract.
With Albers and Nathan, the Nationals will at least enter Spring Training with a chance to add some much-needed depth to their bullpen. Blake Treinen, Koda Glover and Kelley join lefties Oliver Perez and Sammy Solis as the top returnees to Washington's relief corps.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.