The Texas Rangers have a huge wish list this offseason, but at least they don’t need a closer this Hot Stove season. Right now everything points to Neftali Feliz returning to the closer role in 2015.
I would agree with ESPN’s Calvin Watkins that Feliz will be the closer in 2015 and he should be. Looking back a year ago he seemed to be favorite for the closer role then, but he was still rebounding from Tommy John surgery and didn’t really pitch much at all in 2013. During the 2013 season Feliz pitched only 6 games in relief and managed to not allow any runs, but during his time in winter ball doubts about how ready he was started to creep up. He struggled with his command and velocity. It was pretty evident by the start of spring training that he wasn’t able to hit the high 90 MPH any more and really struggled on back-to-back days. Feliz surprised almost everyone by not only losing the closer role but also by being sent down to the minors to work out his command and velocity issues. He was sent to play with triple-A Round Rock Express, but shortly after the season began he was on the disabled list.
Neftali Feliz managed to return off the disabled list on May 8 and remained healthy from that point forward. During the month of May he still struggled a bit with command and his velocity, but he slowly started to build up strength and confidence in his arm. By the All-Star break Neftali Feliz had a 3.14 ERA and 7 saves out of 9 with the Express over 24 games/28.2 innings. It was his best performance, but he had shown enough improvement for the Rangers to feel comfortable trading their current closer Joakim Soria away.
After the All-star break Feliz was finally back in the majors and he was again able to prove he was the closer for the Rangers. Similar to his time with the Express Feliz started out a bit poorly, but there were still signs of improvement. He slowly managed to improve his command and his velocity was in the mid 90s during the month of July and August. By September he was finally reaching 97-98 MPH and looking more like the Feliz that had the closer role before the Rangers gave it to Joe Nathan.
He finished the season with a 1.99 ERA with 13 saves and only one blown save over 30 games/31.2 innings. During the 2011 season, his last full season as the closer, he had a 2.74 ERA with 32 saves and 6 blown saves over 64 games/62.1 innings. Feliz in the past has tried to be a starting pitcher, but it’s hard to deny that his true calling is a closer. He’s done well there in the past and appears to be fitting in that role again. He’s a bit older than when he was just a kid pitching in the World Series. He also seems to finally getting that mental toughness that everyone said he lacked in 2011. Right now it seems like Neftali Feliz is the closer for the Texas Rangers for the next few years.