Feliz's desire to start may not fit Rangers' plans
With decision looming, righty looks like he'll stay in closer's role
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Neftali Feliz's goal is to be a starter. He has made that clear.Feliz also knows there is a growing possibility that in the next week, the Rangers will sit him down and tell him that he needs to remain as closer. Rangers officials are coming to the conclusion that is best for the team. "My goal is to be a starter, but it's not my decision," Feliz said. "In the end, the final decision rests with the team. I know they have plenty of guys who could be a starter. They could keep giving me a chance to start or keep me as the closer. Or they could look for a closer." Feliz said he will not be disappointed if the Rangers keep him as the closer.
2010 Spring Training - Texas Rangers
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"Obviously not," Feliz said. "I just want to be a part of the team. If I'm doing the job as the closer, I'll be happy to do that."Feliz was the Rangers' closer in 2010, when he saved 40 games, made the All-Star team and was named American League Rookie of the Year. He was a big reason why the Rangers reached the World Series for the first time in franchise history. The temptation remains to move Feliz to the rotation. He has the talent to be a No. 1 starter. But the Rangers seem to have a greater need for him at the back end of the bullpen and that has become more obvious as camp has progressed. The Rangers' rotation overflows with candidates behind C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis. Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Michael Kirkman and Alexi Ogando have all pitched well enough to merit one of the final three spots. The Rangers also have Brandon Webb, who continues to progress toward being ready sometime in April or the beginning of May. David Bush is a veteran who provides a safety net. So far, that net does not seem needed. What is needed is a closer. Just in the past three weeks, the Rangers have lost three games -- two in the ninth and one in the eighth -- in the opponent's last at-bat. Manager Ron Washington wants an experienced closer. There isn't one in camp. The Rangers would have either taken a chance on Ogando, who has 44 games of Major League experience, or Mark Lowe, who missed most of last season because of back surgery. Lowe has experience, having pitched in 165 Major League games. He also has the stuff; he is a hard-throwing sinkerball pitcher who was hitting 97 mph on the radar gun Wednesday night in his inning of work against the Rockies. It was not a good frame. Lowe allowed four runs on five hits and now has a 10.50 ERA for the spring. His power is there, but his location is not. "I felt great," Lowe said. "Physically, I felt amazing. I'm right where I want to be. Usually, it takes all spring to get my command. A lot of power pitchers are like that. You build up arm strength and then you've got to turn it around and get the arm strength to work for you." He also needs a swing-and-miss pitch. His changeup has been good this spring, but he needs his slider to come around. He said that pitch always comes last in Spring Training. Nolan Ryan was the same way. His curveball was always the last pitch to come around before the season began. "The slider always comes around last, and once we get out of the thin air here in Arizona, it will start moving a bit more," Lowe said. "I've never been a big results guy in Spring Training. It usually takes me all of six weeks to be ready. Once the phone rings during the season, I'll be ready to go." The Rangers are confident Lowe will be ready to pitch out of their bullpen. If nothing else, he will be one of their right-handed setup relievers. He is proven to be effective in that role. What's hard for them is judging if he's ready to be a Major League closer after the time he missed last year and the results he is getting this spring. "Every time I go out there, I'm leaving everything I've got out on the mound," Lowe said. "It's not like I'm going out there without a care in the world. I care as much as anybody. I just don't get results-oriented in Spring Training." The Rangers have to decide soon. With Wilson pitching Wednesday night, the Rangers are currently in the fourth of six turns through the rotation. "The next time these guys take the ball, we need to start making decisions," Washington said. "The guys who are going to be relievers, they need to start preparing for their roles and get back-to-back outings. I'd say sometime at the end of next week, we'll have to make some decisions." The Rangers may try to find a closer from outside the organization through a trade. That may be difficult at the end of Spring Training. It also will likely be unnecessary. The Rangers already have one of the best closers in the game and more than enough rotation candidates. They are trying to go back to the World Series and know that the best way to get there is likely with Feliz as the closer. The club understands that. Feliz, despite his desire to be a starter, knows that. At some point in the next seven to 10 days, everybody just needs to sit down to decide once and for all that's the way the Rangers want to go. All signs point to that being the case.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.