FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Joe Nathan has 247 career saves in the majors ... and none since Oct. 3, 2009.
Yes, it's been a long time, but following the Tommy John ligament transfer surgery a year ago that rendered him a spectator for all of 2010, the Minnesota closer is back to full speed and confident he can pick up where he left off in 2011.
So are the Twins.
"He's really done well in his rehab," general manager Bill Smith says. "He's attacked it. He committed himself, from the day of the surgery, to being in the best shape of his life. He wanted to get his body in the best shape possible so that when he came out of surgery, he could start rehabilitation sooner.
"He worked tirelessly, for months, even when he couldn't throw a baseball."
"I figured I'd work on whatever I could at the time," Nathan says.
So if that meant riding an exercise bike so his legs wouldn't go weak during the time he couldn't throw, he rode. And if it meant strengthening other parts of his body, that's what he did as well.
So far this spring, he says, "I can't complain. Everything has been full go. I'm doing all the drills."
He's thrown live batting practice and had no setbacks.
Meanwhile, the Twins have the luxury of bringing him along slowly thanks to the presence of Matt Capps, who closed in Washington and Pittsburgh over the past four seasons before Minnesota acquired him last July 29.
Don't expect to see Nathan working back-to-back games early. Not until the Twins are sure of what he can tolerate.
"A lot will probably depend on the number of pitches I throw," Nathan says. "If I throw a lot of pitches, they probably won't bring me back the next day.
"And the back-to-back-to-backs, the three days in a row, that may have to wait."
There's a lot of spring training left, and a lot Nathan still has to prove. And within that is the unsettled question of his contract beyond this year: The Twins hold a $12.5 million option on him for 2012, or a $2 million buyout.
But so far, he's healthy and determined in what would be a fairly rapid comeback.
"All he points at is, 'Billy Wagner did it'," Minnesota pitching coach Rick Anderson says. "'And if he can do it, I can do it.'"