MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins suddenly have a glaring concern about closing games for the first time since Joe Nathan took over in 2004.
Tests on Nathan’s right throwing elbow have revealed a significant tear in the ulnar collateral ligament, an injury that could require season-ending Tommy John surgery. Nathan’s 246 saves over six seasons are the most in the majors during that span.
The Twins shared the grim news on Tuesday in Fort Myers, Fla., before their exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals. General manager Bill Smith said the plan is to first give Nathan time to let soreness and swelling subside, and build strength in the muscles around the joint, before a final decision about surgery.
In the meantime, a second opinion will be sought from Dr. James Andrews, the noted surgeon who removed bone spurs and chips from the elbow in October. The ulnar collateral ligament is replaced in the Tommy John procedure, which typically takes 12 to 18 months to recover from.
Nathan will try to pitch again in two weeks. If he can’t, the four-time All-Star will have surgery. His season then would almost certainly be over, perhaps putting his status for next year in question, too.
Former All-Star dead
LOS ANGELES — Willie Davis, a speedy center fielder who collected two World Series rings, three Gold Gloves and was a two-time All-Star during his 14 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, has died. He was 69. Davis was found dead Tuesday in his Burbank home, police said, adding that they did not believe foul play was involved. Davis’ teammates included Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Roseboro, Junior Gilliam and Maury Wills. He won his World Series rings in 1963 and 1965.
Strasburg makes debut
VIERA, Fla. — Stephen Strasburg battled some nerves and location issues during his spring training debut. Other than those minor hiccups, the top prospect was pretty impressive. Strasburg threw two scoreless innings in the Washington Nationals’ 9-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday, responding well to the hoopla surrounding his first exhibition start. Strasburg was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft and received a record $15.1 million, four-year contract from the Nationals.
Ali visits Giants camp
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda are regular visitors around the San Francisco Giants. But when Muhammad Ali showed up in the clubhouse Tuesday to tout his Athletes for Hope charity campaign, players, coaches, clubbies and even the general manager and owner stood in line for photos with the 68-year-old former heavyweight champion. Ali, who lives in Scottsdale, suffers from Parkinson’s disease.
No Yankee extentions
NEW YORK — Hal Steinbrenner says the New York Yankees won’t alter their policy against contract extensions and will deal with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Joe Girardi after the season. Jeter’s $189 million, 10-year contract expires after the World Series, as does Rivera’s $45 million, three-year deal. Girardi is entering the final season of a $7.8 million, three-year contract.
Blaslock gets shot with Rays
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Hank Blalock will get an opportunity to rekindle his career with the Tampa Bay Rays. The two-time All-Star agreed to a minor league contract and reported to spring training on Tuesday. Blalock hit .234 with 25 homers and 66 RBI in 123 games for the Texas Rangers last year. He missed much of the previous two seasons with injuries.
Rodriguez yet to testify
TAMPA, Fla. — Yankees star Alex Rodriguez said Tuesday he is at ease with his ties to a Canadian sports doctor embroiled in cross-border investigations involving HGH and another drug, though he still hasn’t talked to federal authorities about the case. Speaking a day after Dr. Anthony Galea told The Associated Press he treated Rodriguez last year and prescribed anti-inflammatories but never gave him or any other athlete HGH, the three-time MVP said he still doesn’t know when he will be interviewed by federal agents.