Feliz focused on reclaiming closer's role, not velocity
With rotation experiment behind him, right-hander on scoreless streak in Arizona
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers reliever Neftali Feliz threw a scoreless inning in Thursday's 4-4 tie with the Giants. He allowed one hit and struck out one for his fourth straight scoreless outing.
After the game, manager Ron Washington was asked for his assessment of Feliz's performance.
"It's the same," Washington said.
Is that good or bad?
"It's not bad," Washington said. "He is getting outs. But there is more to be gotten. We just have to wait for it. It's a matter of him continuing to get outs with what he has to offer."
Feliz gave up two runs in an intrasquad game and two runs in his first Cactus League game. Since then, he has given up four hits in four scoreless innings, walked one and struck out one as he continues his personal quest to be the Rangers closer.
"Right now, I am very happy," Feliz said. "I've been working on my mechanics and keeping the ball down. It has been going good. I'm working on what I need to be working on, and every time out it is better and better."
The Rangers keep a wary eye on the radar gun, and Feliz's fastball is around 92-93 mph. Occasionally it will hit 94, but that's about it. Before he underwent Tommy John surgery on Aug. 1, 2012, Feliz was averaging 96 mph as the Rangers closer in 2010-11 and could dial it up to 100 on occasion.
"I'm not focused on the velocity," Feliz said. "I'm working on what I need to be working on. I'm focusing more on keeping the ball down and using my other pitches. I think the velocity will come soon. I feel good throwing 93-94. I know more is coming soon and be there consistently. It's coming."
If Feliz's velocity was back to pre-surgery levels, the Rangers probably would have crowned him as their closer again for the 2014 season. But it's not, so Washington continues to wait before making any such pronouncements.
He is satisfied Feliz is making progress from early in Spring Training, when his mechanics were a mess and he needed daily work with pitching coach Mike Maddux to get straightened out. His velocity is not quite there, but he is using both a slider and a changeup.
"I see the same things Feliz is seeing," Washington said. "I see that he is repeating his delivery and he is throwing the ball down in the zone. He's using all his pitches. At some point, he'll be able to cut loose and just let it all hang out. I don't know when that will be, but hopefully it will be soon."
It could be more than just waiting on the radar gun. The Rangers may not want Feliz to get satisfied and ease up going into the final two weeks of Spring Training. They know that Joakim Soria, who had Tommy John surgery on April 3, 2012, is having an excellent spring and gives them an option at closer.
Soria had 160 saves as the Royals closer in 2007-11 before coming down with his elbow problems. The Rangers also have Tanner Scheppers, who was terrific as a setup reliever last season, but he is still in competition to win a spot in the rotation.
Feliz came into Spring Training determined to win his old job back. He had 74 saves in 2009-11 before switching to the rotation in 2012. Even though he was an All-Star closer, the Rangers always pushed the idea of getting Feliz into the rotation. The idea died with the Tommy John surgery, and now Feliz is focused solely on relieving and winning the closer's role by March 31, when the Rangers open the season against the Phillies.
"I will be ready to do it, but it's not my decision," Feliz said. "So I will be ready to do whatever the team wants me to do. I'm working to be the closer, but that's the decision they have to make."
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.