Neftali Feliz

The First Homestand: What We Know


Today the Rangers capped off their second straight series win to start the season, defeating the Seattle Mariners 5-3. A lot like the opening set against the White Sox over the weekend, the Mariners were an opposition the Rangers mainly dominated from start to finish (give or take the 9th inning Alexis Rios home run or the blown save in last night’s contest). But regardless of who they’re playing, a 5-2 start looks good, whether viewed in a vacuum or within the context of an extremely loaded American League.

In the team’s first seven games, the pitching staff allowed an anemic total of 18 runs. The White Sox and Mariners scored — on average — about 2.5 runs a game against us. Take out the two bad innings from Joe Nathan where he allowed four runs and took the loss each time, and you’re looking at a staff ERA of a tick over 2.00. Yes, it’s two teams that figure to be spending the better (or worse, depending how you look at it) part of the season huddled in the bottom tier of their divisions, but we still saw a lot of positives.

For starters (no pun), Neftali Feliz looks pretty damn good. I was admittedly a skeptic of how his extremely high-powered fastball conflated with what I believed to be a very inept package of secondary offerings. But after seeing his first start in which he allowed four base hits and two walks (both in the first inning) in seven frames, striking out four, I’ve already incinerated any doubt I once had. I’m not going to go so far as to say he’s a top-of-the-rotation-type pitcher, but his delivery looks fluid and his changeup is devastating. The break on his slider never looked as sharp in any ninth inning he pitched like it did in his first start.

Although I see that as the biggest revelation through the first seven games, there are other things worth keeping an eye on.

- Ron Washington seems to have a pretty transparent plan in regard to how he manipulates his outfield on a given night. David Murphy will play the first six or seven innings, get a few at-bats in, and then be replaced by Craig Gentry (who moves to center, shifting Josh Hamilton into left). This appears to be a pretty solid strategy, and the results are showing. David Murphy leads this team with a .444 batting average to start the year, and Craig Gentry is a far superior asset playing center field late in games than Josh Hamilton. Furthermore, Josh Hamilton is a much better left fielder than is David Murphy, so that is where the scheme sort of wraps itself up with a nice little bow.

- The starting rotation may be better than even an optimistic fan would have predicted. In 7 games, the rotation has produced 6 quality starts. Only Yu Darvish didn’t make it through six innings, and the Rangers won that game.

- Though Ian Kinsler (.370 BA/.452 OBP/.889 SLG) and Josh Hamilton (.357/.345/.607) have come out of the gates delivering the most production offensively, the Rangers as a team have not been too much to write home about, averaging only about 4 runs a game. It’s a testament to the aforementioned starting rotation, and a sign that the team is soon to break out.

- I hope you enjoyed the first seven with Chicago and Seattle; Texas is about to hit the teeth of their early season schedule. After three on the road in Minnesota, the Rangers travel to Boston for two, and Detroit for four. When they get home, they’ll have matching three game sets with New York and Tampa Bay, then go on the road for ten more.

When they get back home, the Angels will be in town.

 

It was a homestand that could at worst be described by as “solid,” and if a couple things here and there had transpired differently, it may have been perfect. But that’s not always what the baseball universe has in store, though I highly doubt many of us can complain with back-to-back series wins at home, or the 5-2 record the Rangers take with them on the road for the first time in 2012.

 

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Tags: Ian Kinsler Josh Hamilton Neftali Feliz Starting Rotation Texas Rangers