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Ron Washington is “very committed” to giving Neftali Feliz the chance to start

Mar 4, 2011, 11:33 AM EDT

World Series Giants Rangers Baseball

Neftali Feliz made his spring training debut yesterday as a starter, throwing two scoreless innings against the Indians, and afterward manager Ron Washington told T.R. Sullivan of that the Rangers “are very committed to giving him the opportunity” to join the rotation.

Feliz was primarily a starter in the minors, establishing himself as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, but shifted to relief at Triple-A in preparation for a mid-2009 call-up to the majors and has been in the Rangers’ bullpen ever since.

He won Rookie of the Year honors last season by saving 40 games with a 2.73 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 69 innings, but the Rangers are smartly trying to determine if he can make a big impact in a 200-inning role before locking the 23-year-old into a 70-inning role for the rest of his career, particularly after Washington’s rigid closer usage left Feliz without much of an impact during their run to the World Series.

Feliz struggled with his command yesterday and will have to re-adjust to relying on his off-speed pitches after throwing 83 percent fastballs as a reliever last season, but just two years ago Baseball America named him the 10th-best prospect in baseball as a starter. Washington noted that the attempted transition “is going to be a work in progress,” but the Rangers are doing the right thing by giving Feliz an opportunity to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. After all, he can always move back to the bullpen.

  1. BC - Mar 4, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    Doesn’t Neftali Feliz look like Pedro Martinez’s illegitimate son?

    • Detroit Michael - Mar 4, 2011 at 2:24 PM

      I don’t know because I’ve never seen Pedro Martinez’ illegitimate son.

  2. Ari Collins - Mar 4, 2011 at 11:58 AM

    Unlike Papelbon, who just didn’t have the repertoire to start, and Joba, who was kept from starting because he hurt his shoulder, Feliz should be given every opportunity.

    • okobojicat - Mar 4, 2011 at 12:09 PM

      There is no evidence whatsoever that Papplebon did not have the repertoire to start. His numbers in the minors as a starter are off the charts good. The Red Sox intended him to be a starter.

      He became a closer because they needed someone to fill the role. The following year, he was going to be a starter, and he asked to become the closer. So they let him.

      If anything the Red Sox mishandled it because they had a valuable commodity who they allowed to reduce his value.

      • Ari Collins - Mar 4, 2011 at 1:01 PM

        He might have had the numbers in the minors, as a starter, but you can often get away with a poor third pitch against minor league hitters. He had the numbers but never had the stuff. The evidence is in both the scouting report on his slider, from the minors on up, and the results when he uses it.

        Perhaps the slider could have developed better had he remained a starter, and you could argue that they should have let him try to develop it as a starter in the majors, but it’s not like he had starter stuff.

      • JBerardi - Mar 4, 2011 at 3:56 PM

        His numbers in the minors were most certainly not “off the charts good”. He probably could have remained a starter, but he’d be pretty average, at best. He just doesn’t have the secondary stuff to be a great starter, and he never really did.

  3. trevorb06 - Mar 4, 2011 at 12:07 PM

    See Dusty Baker, it’s not too late to redeem yourself.

    Let’s just hope the damage isn’t already done to Feliz and that he hasn’t lost too much time to develope.

  4. BC - Mar 4, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    I don’t get why there’s a rush to take these young guys who come up and are lights out in the bullpen and get them into the rotation (Papelbon, Joba, Feliz, Chapman, etc). If they’re lights out at something, dude, you have a serious asset. Leave them alone and let them be lights out. Who cares what they were in the minors? If the guy’s lights out in a given role, leave him there. It completely screwed Joba up.
    I’m waiting for Dusty to screw Chapman up.

    • Mike Luna - Mar 4, 2011 at 1:46 PM

      Because a TORP is always more valuable than a closer. Always.

      • BC - Mar 4, 2011 at 2:18 PM

        Not if the guy flops as a starter. Then you try and put him back in the pen, and he’s all messed up. If the guy’s sizzling, let him sizzle. Don’t mess with it.

      • Detroit Michael - Mar 4, 2011 at 2:32 PM

        TORP = Top Of the Rotation Pitcher apparently.

        That’s a circular argument. If we knew that Feliz would be top of the rotation starting pitcher immediately, then yes it’s obvious he should be a starter instead of a closer.

      • spindervish - Mar 4, 2011 at 2:37 PM

        Joba is a special case, not one you’d ever base a rule or philosophy on. The Yankees severely jerked him around, then imposed those ridiculous innings limits. And all that aside, my understanding is that people who know what they’re talking about seem to believe Joba’s recent ineffectiveness has way more to do with an injury from which he’s never fully recovered than anything the Yankees did to screw up his development.

        Your claim that a nasty reliever who fails as a starter will be “all messed up” upon returning to the ‘pen seems based on very little and very anecdotal evidence.

      • JBerardi - Mar 4, 2011 at 4:27 PM

        “Because a TORP is always more valuable than a closer. Always.”

        Sure, but few if any closers are potential top-of-the-rotation starters.

  5. Detroit Michael - Mar 4, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    If the Rangers are committed to trying this, then why did they trade away Frank Francisco? When I look at their bullpen, Neftali Feliz looks like the only reliever who is above average, durable, and doesn’t have large platoon splits. While it’s easy to say that many, many pitchers can be average closers if given a chance, I don’t see a suitable candidate beyond Feliz on their roster.

    I think it’s also a bit difficult to manage if they feel that Feliz would benefit from some time in the minors given that he excelled in the majors as a reliever.

    • spindervish - Mar 4, 2011 at 2:47 PM

      Alexi Ogando throws the hell out of the ball. I think he might be able to approach Feliz’s production. After all, Feliz put up those numbers with basically one pitch, a 98-mph fastball. Ogando can hit 98 too.

      I will agree that other than that there’s nothing too interesting in the Texas ‘pen. Mark Lowe doesn’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence.

      • cur68 - Mar 4, 2011 at 3:00 PM

        I’m not jumping on you spindervish but what you said made me do a bit of checking. Did anyone predict, at the start of the 2010 season, that the Rangers would go all the way to the series? I did a bit of checking and found this list of heavyweights giving their predictions over @ ESPN;
        None of them even have the Rangers in the series and the best they were predicted was as West champs. Looking that roster over as compared to this I don’t see huge glaring differences and now they have a guy who throws 98 freaking mph (I wish the Jays had this guy). If you are a Rangers fan then I think you got cause for optimism. Your team looks good to me, bullpen and all. Hell, Id even take Mark Lowe, but you gotta throw in Hamilton with him. We’ll trade you Posednick and Beiber (he’s Canadian).

      • spindervish - Mar 4, 2011 at 3:23 PM

        I guess I’m not sure I understand what you’re reacting to. I didn’t say anything negative about the Rangers’ chances this year. I’m not a Rangers fan, but I would agree the fanbase should be optimistic. Their team is pretty awesome.

        I just wanted to bring Ogando and his nasty stuff to the attention of the poster who questioned the Texas bullpen outside of Feliz, while agreeing that they seem to lack many other relief options who possess closer-type stuff.

      • cur68 - Mar 4, 2011 at 3:28 PM

        Nah, not reacting to negative, just pointing out how freakin awesome I think that team is. 2 bad you aren’t a Rangers fan; you’d be grinning ear 2 ear if you were. Still I’d trade one J. Beiber for any ball player, even one O. Perez.

  6. gt929 - Mar 4, 2011 at 10:28 PM

    An interesting dilemma will occur if Feliz starts the season in the rotation but struggles. Will the Rangers send their best reliever to the minors to work on his secondary pitches? They (and us fans) expect to be in contention from the beginning, and will be hesitant to weaken the team short-term for potential long-term gain. It may depend on how Ogando or Lowe or whoever is doing as closer. Last year, in the case of CJ Wilson, had he struggled it would not have been as much of a problem to send him down for a while, but this year team expectations will be so much higher than last.

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