March 22, 2014. Surprise, Ariz – Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington made some big decisions today. He named Joakim Soria as the closer and said the Neftali Feliz is battling for a spot in the bullpen. It seemed that for most of the offseason that Feliz was the front runner for the closer role. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Offseason: It seemed that for most of the offseason that Feliz was the front runner for the closer role. He played in the Dominican Winter League and seemed to have his command and velocity. Feliz used the extra time and preparation in DWL to rehab from Tommy John surgery. Feliz spent about a month with the team and enjoyed a streak of 10 games without allowing any runs. (6 games with the Texas Rangers in 2013 and 4 games with the Toros in DWL). Feliz was tagged for his first run on December 2 when he allowed a single to begin the inning then a sac fly to score a run. Feliz didn’t pitch in any save situations, but did pitch very well. The only other time he was scored on was December 10. That game didn’t go so well for Feliz, and might have been a sign of what was to come. In that game he allowed a single, double, and a walk, with lead to 2 runs.
Neftali Feliz finished the Dominican Winter League season with an ERA of 2.79 with 11 strikeouts and allowed 2 walks. Feliz did have good command and managed to get his fastball up to 98 MPH. All signs pointed to Feliz being the closer for the Texas Rangers
Not the same: When spring training started everyone had high expectations for Feliz. He was the closer from 2010-2011 before Joe Nathan. He played very well in that role, but when the Rangers signed Nathan, he was named a starter and was later injured. With his history as the closer, it was easy to say he is the front runner for the closer role, but after his spring training debut was a disappointment, it became apparent a battle was brewing for the closer role. During his first outing, Feliz didn’t have the same zip on the ball when he was pitching in the DWL or his 6 games for the Rangers. He was only throwing in the high 80s in his first game. Clearly not the same closer that was throwing high heat near 99 MPH back in 2011. Feliz was hit hard during that game and allowed 3 hits and 2 runs over 1 inning of work.
Ron Washington gave Feliz more time and chances to prove himself in spring training, but it was almost more of the same. Feliz did slowly manage to get his velocity up to the mid-90s, but he still wasn’t getting very much movement on the ball. For a closer, if you don’t have the heat, you need command and movement to make the outs.
Feliz has had issues getting strike outs and getting batters to miss the ball. That has lead to his spring training ERA to a sky high 4.50. Not the worst for a pitcher, but that’s not the ERA of a closer. He has pitched in 8 games/8 innings and has only recorded 4 strike outs, and been charged with 4 earned runs.
Fighting for a bench spot: Feliz is now battling for a job. Washington announced Joakim Soria as the closer today and that Neftali Feliz needs to earn his spot in the bullpen. That could mean that Feliz might not make the team. It’s hard to imagine a situation where Feliz doesn’t make the team, but it could happen. He still has time to build up his command and velocity, but he might need to focus more on his confidence. Feliz has been a great pitcher for the Rangers and he can do it again. Even when you consider his velocity is down, it shouldn’t be the main concern. The biggest concern is his command and movement. Pitchers like Colby Lewis and even Joakim Soria don’t need high heat to strike batters out. They use excellent location, pitch selection and command to work their magic. Feliz can do that, he must believe he can do it again. Maybe Ron Washington can give him a confidence boost or maybe by scaring him with the possibly of not making the team. I expect that Feliz will improve over the next few games and make the team. Overall, I’m not surprised that Joakim Soria is the closer. Soria fought hard and beat Feliz out for the role.