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Stony Brook product Joe Nathan hopes to make Nationals

Washington Nationals pitcher Joe Nathan, a Stony Brook

Washington Nationals pitcher Joe Nathan, a Stony Brook product, broke into the big leagues in 1999. Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Nationals have a ton of talent, as usual, and they still were adding guys after spring training opened. The defending NL East champions signed catcher Matt Wieters on Feb. 21 and a week later signed reliever Joe Blanton to a one-year deal.

The Nationals didn’t really need another catcher because they already had Derek Norris and Jose Lobaton. But they did and probably still do need relievers because they don’t have a closer after Mark Melancon signed with the Giants.

Former Yankee Shawn Kelley is the top contender. He had seven saves last season, which increased his career total to 11.

Washington does have one closer in camp. He’s a six-time All-Star with 377 career saves. He also happens to be 42, has had two Tommy John surgeries and has thrown a total of 6 2⁄3 innings in the last two seasons.

But Joe Nathan isn’t ready to hang ’em up just yet. The Stony Brook University product and namesake of Joe Nathan Field is in camp trying to make the Washington roster. Manager Dusty Baker has even mentioned his “bionic man” as a possible closer as the Nationals try to hold off the Mets.

“He’s throwing the ball well,” Baker said recently. “He’s shown that he has good command. His velocity’s back. He’s healthy. That’s the main thing. He’s like a bionic man. He has a young arm. Even though everybody makes a big deal out of his age, he has a young body. Joe’s one of the guys that if he didn’t have gray hair, if you didn’t know he was Joe Nathan, you wouldn’t think that he was [42] years old.”

Nathan said he appreciated the compliment.

“Dusty and I go way back,” Nathan said. “He saw me when I was a rookie.”

(That was in 1999, by the way.)

“If anybody knows, he would,” Nathan said. “It’s good to hear. I’ve been around this game for so long, been through quite a bit. Been through injuries, but my body’s been able to bounce back.”

Nathan said he always intended to pitch this season after making three appearances for the Cubs in July and seven for the Giants last September. He signed a minor-league deal with the Nationals on Jan. 31. He had a 5.40 ERA in five spring training appearances through Friday.

“There’s got to be two sides to it,” Nathan said. “I knew I can still compete and can still pitch, but a team’s got to believe in you and give you that shot. It remains to be seen here.”

Nathan said he did reach out to one team that is close to his heart to see if there was an opening he could fill.

“I was a Mets fan growing up, so that was definitely a team we were looking at and had interest in,” he said. “When it came down to it, there was more interest here.”

In his mind’s eye, Nathan can see helping the Nationals enough to pick up his second World Series ring. That’s right, second. He’s getting one for those three appearances with the Cubs last season.

“They already reached out and asked me ring size and stuff like that,” he said. “Is it the way I wanted it? Absolutely not. But still a pretty good souvenir.”

All-time saves leaders:

1. Mariano Rivera 652

2.Trevor Hoffman 601

3.Lee Smith 478

4.Francisco Rodriguez 430*

5.John Franco 424

6.Billy Wagner 422

7. Dennis Eckersley390

8.Joe Nathan 377*

9.Jonathan Papelbon 368*

10.Jeff Reardon 367

*Active player

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