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Lonely life for Twins closer Joe Nathan, who is on mend

USA Today—Knoxville, Tenn.—July 15, 2010

Pitcher Joe Nathan, his arms extended with a 5-pound weight in each hand, bends over and lunges sideways up a 25-degree concrete incline outside the University of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium.

The monotonous, sweaty exercises unfolded some 1,920 miles from Anaheim, Calif., which was baseball's epicenter Tuesday for the All-Star Game.

This was supposed to be a magical summer for Nathan. He was coming off a season with a franchise-record 47 saves, and the Twins were moving into their new ballpark, Target Field.

The Twins' all-time saves leader (246) had surgery March 27 and hopes to be back in the bullpen next April, a realistic goal, says Dr. David Altchek, a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and the New York Mets team physician, who performed the surgery.

Pitchers used to need 18 months to recover from ligament replacement, but now it's becoming routine to return in a year. There are variations, but the quicker recovery is "because surgeries are cleaner, done earlier in the process. The rehabilitation is more precise," Altchek says.

Despite the encouraging prognosis, opening day a week later at Target Field was far more bitter than sweet.

"It was difficult, especially with how good the team is," Nathan says. "I had to stay positive."

He says he and his family will return to Minneapolis on Friday and he'll have his first game of catch Saturday, making 20 throws from 45 feet. That has him smiling.

"Other pitchers (with the same injury) have told me they can't believe how good it feels to play catch for the first time," Nathan says. "It's going to feel good to put on a glove."

This story originally appeared at usatoday.com.


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