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09/25/07 10:00 AM ET

Nathan up for DHL Delivery Man award

Twins closer made most of his opportunities this season

Finding opportunities for your closer to pick up saves isn't always easy when your club struggles to pull off close victories.

That certainly was the case for the Twins in 2006, when Joe Nathan had trouble just getting chances to get on the mound. And for the club this season, it's been a case of déjà vu.

But once again, Nathan has made do with the limited chances he's been given. Nathan is 34-for-38 in save opportunities this season and holds a 1.98 ERA over his 68 1/3 innings.

Nathan's continued excellence on the mound is why the 32-year-old was named one of 10 finalists for the "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year Award."

The "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Month Award" winner is selected by a special Major League Baseball "yellow-ribbon" panel that includes Mike Bauman, national columnist for MLB.com; Rich "Goose" Gossage, the nine-time All-Star pitcher; Darryl Hamilton, former Major League outfielder and a member of the MLB on-field operations staff; Jerome Holtzman, the official MLB historian and a member of the writer's wing of the Hall of Fame; and Bob Watson, vice president, on-field operations, Major League Baseball.

At the conclusion of the season, Major League Baseball fans have the opportunity to determine which relief pitcher had the best overall season and deserves the third annual "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year Award." A list of finalists will be selected based on statistical qualifiers, and fans will be able to vote for the winner online at MLB.com, the official Web site of Major League Baseball. The "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year Award" will be presented during the Major League Baseball postseason.

The other nine relievers vying for the award along with Nathan include the Padres' Trevor Hoffman, the Mariners' J.J. Putz, the Cardinals' Jason Isringhausen, the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez, the Brewers' Francisco Cordero, the Diamondbacks' Jose Valverde, the Dodgers' Takashi Saito, White Sox closer Bobby Jenks and Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.

In 2006, Nathan became the first pitcher in Twins history to record 35 or more saves in three straight seasons, and he still has a chance to make it four straight. Nathan sits at 34 saves with seven games to play.

But after recording over 40 saves in each of his first two seasons as Minnesota's closer, the numbers for Nathan clearly have diminished. Nathan believes it's a case of circumstances rather than any change in his effectiveness on the mound. And it's one reason why he doesn't judge his season by how many saves he's accumulated.

"I never believed the save number was a big deal," Nathan said. "It's almost like the win for a starter, except you're relying on even more stuff as a closer. So I've always been a big believer in just getting out there and doing your job when you are asked to take the ball, whether it's a save opportunity or not."

Instead of saves, Nathan said his focus always has been on ERA. At the start of the '07 season, Nathan's ERA was a tad higher than normal, as was the number of hits he was giving up.

In his fourth season as the Twins' closer, Nathan noticed that hitters were starting to make an adjustment. His slider was a bit flatter than usual, and hitters were beginning to sit on the pitch. So Nathan went back to a sinker he had previously used as a starter with the Giants. And the result in the second half of the season has been that Nathan has allowed nearly half the amount of hits, just 16 in 31 innings, compared with 35 over his first 37 1/3 innings.

"Hits are going to happen, but you obviously want to keep them as down as you can," Nathan said. "The sinker I'm able to run away from left-handers and get some ground balls. I think that's why my strikeouts have gone down a little. It's just a little adjustment, but it's something that a left-hander has to think about, covering the outside of the plate as well."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.