It's not that Nathan didn't recover nicely from Tommy John surgery -- he posted a 2.80 ERA with 37 saves with the Rangers in 2012 -- it's just that it took him a little while. And that Madson is only signed for one season.
The procedure, which Madson underwent in early April, requires pretty much a 12-month recovery. But many of those Madson spoke to said it usually takes up to 18 months before you're truly yourself again, which Nathan can tell you after posting a 7.27 ERA in his first three months back with the Twins in 2011.
With that in mind, perhaps it's best for Madson to start the regular season in a slightly minimized bullpen role before easing his way into the ninth later.
But Madson doesn't think that'll be necessary.
"I'd rather hit the gate running as much as I can," said Madson, who has incentives based on games finished and roster time that can push his contract from $3.5 million to $7 million.
"If there's a situation where it's back-to-back and it's not allowed, then that's fine. But if I'm available, I want to pitch in the ninth inning because that's where I think I've tuned my mentality. I've tuned just everything about the way I pitch to that inning. It is a lot different inning than the eighth."
The Angels haven't publicly stated that Madson will be their closer, but it's pretty clear that if healthy and right, he would be their preference, with Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs and the recently signed Sean Burnett making up a long bridge leading up to him.
Madson finally got a chance to be the full-time closer for the Phillies in 2011 and excelled, posting a 2.37 ERA, converting 32 of his 34 save chances and striking out 62 batters in 60 2/3 innings. But in Spring Training with the Reds, after signing a one-year deal, non-threatening elbow irritation led to a blown-out elbow that prompted the 32-year-old to go under the knife.
Madson is currently doing about 120 throws from 120 feet, right in line with the plan set forth by Dr. Lewis Yocum, the Angels' medical director who also performed Madson's surgery. He was ahead of schedule earlier, then backed off to make sure the elbow ligament stretched out at a proper pace, and reports good health.
Madson doesn't have a set date to start throwing off a mound again, but he hopes it's by early January, making him fully ready for Spring Training and allowing him to be the closer by Opening Day.
But he knows to pace himself.
"The shoulder and all the muscles are ready, but that ligament, you have to keep in mind that it needs to become pliable more," Madson said. "And that's when people run into problems, because they feel good and they stretch it out too fast and it doesn't stretch. It's a heartier ligament -- it's not a tendon, it's a ligament. So, just patience with it."