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 in that span.

General Manager Bill Smith said the plan is to give Nathan time to let soreness and swelling subside, and build strength in the muscles around the joint before a decision about surgery.

In the meantime, an 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 of recovery.

Nathan will try to pitch again in two weeks. If he can’t, he’ll have surgery. His season then almost certainly would be over, perhaps putting his status for next year also in question.

Nathan, 35, said he’s prepared to try and pitch through pain.

“If I’m able to go out there and throw, then I’ll definitely give it a shot,” Nathan said. “The only reason that I would get a surgery done is if I’m just unable to go out there.”

It is possible to pitch through the injury.

“I could be one of those guys. I might not be,” Nathan said.

But if his elbow hurts like it did Saturday, when he felt discomfort and was removed from an exhibition against Boston?

“Then there’s just no chance,” Nathan said.

Nathan and the Twins initially believed this weekend he was just dealing with general stiffness and soreness.

He flew to Minnesota to meet Monday with the team doctor, Dan Buss.

“They’ve got to prepare for the season, too,” Nathan said.


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