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08/26/09 6:36 PM ET
Feliz becoming Rangers' go-to guy
Washington being cautious with lights-out rookie phenom
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Manager Ron Washington would like to limit rookie right-hander Neftali Feliz to just one inning per appearance. That would possibly make him available for back-to-back games.
But that's not always possible, not when your starter is out of the game after 5 2/3 innings, you're trying to hold a three-run lead in the heat of a pennant race and you're on the road against the team with the best record in baseball.
So Feliz was called upon for two innings on Tuesday night against the Yankees with the Rangers leading 8-5. He took over with two outs in the fifth and pitched two scoreless innings, as the Rangers held on for a 10-9 victory at Yankee Stadium.
Washington wanted Feliz for just 1 1/3 innings through the seventh. But he also knew that meant Feliz would not be able to pitch on Wednesday so he decided to send him back out for the eighth.
"I figured I was going to lose him [Wednesday] so I might as well shoot him for two innings," Washington said before Wednesday's game. "Last night he saved our tails. He got us where we needed to get."
Feliz ended up throwing 42 pitches, his most in his nine appearances since being called up from the Minor Leagues. Washington said it's likely Feliz won't be available again until Friday, when the Rangers open a three-game series with the Twins in Minnesota.
That's the battle that Washington has to face every night when dealing with a 21-year-old pitcher with an exceptional power arm who has been outstanding since being called up from Triple-A Oklahoma.
"The battle is very simple," Washington said. "If I use him for just one inning, I can use him again the next night. But if I have to use him for two innings, I will."
Feliz has yet to be limited to just one inning since being called up on Aug. 1. He has pitched at least two innings in five of nine appearances, 1 2/3 innings in one game and 1 1/3 innings in the other three appearances. He has yet to pitch in back-to-back games.
But he is clearly the best Rangers' middle-relief option right now. With two scoreless innings on Tuesday, he now has 14 consecutive scoreless innings since allowing his only run on an Adam Kennedy home run on Aug. 5 in Oakland. His 0.55 ERA is the lowest (minimum 15 innings) in the Major Leagues for the month of August. He has struck out 21 of 56 batters faced.
"He's good," veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez said. "He has a good live fastball and he's very aggressive. He throws strikes, but he's got an explosive fastball. He can blow people away."
The Rangers are also dealing with a starting rotation that has not been given them as many innings as it was earlier in the year. Rangers starters, going into Wednesday's game, had pitched fewer than six innings in eight of their past nine starts.
That puts extra emphasis on middle relief for a team that has been outscored 151-127 combined in the sixth and seventh innings this season.
Washington also has Jason Jennings, Jason Grilli and Doug Mathis. Jennings was excellent in the first half but has a 6.23 ERA since the All-Star break. Grilli has yet to retire a batter in two appearances since coming off the disabled list. Mathis has a 1.57 ERA out of the bullpen but is more of a long reliever.
The statistics, though, may be irrelevant. With a game on the line, Washington has a rapidly-growing preference for a right-hander who can throw 97-100 mph and has just one walk in 161/3 innings.
"I have confidence in all my guys," Washington said. "But if Feliz is ready in the sixth inning and our starter is out, I need that arm to get us to the back end of the bullpen. I'm not going to flip a coin.
"I'm playing it the way I'm playing it. I'll give him ample rest. If he gives us two innings, he's down for the next day. If he gives us one inning, I can use him the next night."