Since Spring Training began, the Rangers have been a bit indecisive as to what they want to do with Neftali Feliz. They’ve stretched him out giving him the opportunity to compete for a position in the starting rotation, which would mean that the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year former closer who had 40 saves in 2010 would no longer close for the Rangers if he was able to prove that he could be successful as a starter.
About a week ago, Nefty said he preferred to close but that didn’t mean that he wouldn’t start if the Rangers wanted him to. Now, it seems that Feliz is just as uncertain as the Rangers. After working with the Rangers new pitching coach Mike Maddux, he has developed a new pitch, a cut fastball, that has given him the confidence that he needed but did not have.
That’s not all that has the 22-year-old in a good mood. Yesterday, Feliz pitched against the Los Angeles Dodgers and pitched a total of four innings – successful innings at that. He threw 59 pitches allowing a single run on just three hits. After such a successful outing in addition to his new pitch that he has, he now believes he would prefer to start and that is his goal for the remainder of Spring Training.
I’ve been a bit mixed on what I think Feliz’s role for 2011 should be. He is young so the pressure could ultimately get to him if he were to move to the starting rotation; however, you also have pressure when you are in the closer role and he proved to be more than successful in that position. I think Feliz is great as a closer, but if he could pitch the 170-200 innings per season then I think he could prove to be one of the most successful starters for the Rangers. After his four innings against the Dodgers, though, he headed to the bullpen where he pitched approximately 25 more pitches. Later this week, he’ll start and pitch five innings.
However, the issue is that if Feliz moves to start that the Rangers won’t have as much power in the closing role. Sure, the team has closers they can turn to, but none as powerful as Feliz. Who will close if Feliz becomes a starter? Ron Washington has several options such as Darren O’Day, Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes, who was acquired in the offseason, but the two leading candidates to replace Nefty in the closer role would be Mark Lowe and Alexi Ogando. However, neither of these compare to Feliz – but there isn’t many that do. If Lowe can return to his healthy form then he can be a pretty solid closer. As for Ogando, well, I can’t say that I would want to put my confidence in him as the team’s ninth inning closer. He has a 96 mph fastball, but the problem is where that fastball ends up – he walks too many batters to be a closer.
With that being said, wherever Feliz ends up will depend on what the Texas Rangers need as a team. If they can’t find someone to his place in the bullpen then he’s likely to stay there for now and have a shot at starting next season. However, if the Rangers can put their faith in others in the bullpen to take Feliz’s spot then he’s likely to find himself in the starting rotation for the 2011 MLB season.