02/20/10 4:30 PM ET
Rangers still determining Feliz's role
Spring Training offers glimpse of young fireballer's future
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
Top 10 in strikeouts per nine innings last season*
|Daniel Bard||Red Sox||11.49|
"Things change," Maddux said. "We're going to stretch him and then at some point in Spring Training we'll all get our heads together and decide which way we are going to go. Injuries happen. Right now we have a lot of starters, but will we have a lot of starters five or six weeks from now?"Let the kid establish himself as a Major Leaguer and we'll take it from there. He might be a closer; he might be a starter; he might be setting up." Feliz is talented, but there are still some unknowns. Feliz can throw hard -- he hit 101 mph in his Major League debut -- but the Rangers want to see three quality pitches as a starter. His changeup was solid and his curveball made dramatic improvement at Triple-A Oklahoma City before he was called up to the big leagues at the beginning of August. "At first, he was wild and erratic, especially with his offspeed stuff," Oklahoma City catcher Kevin Richardson said. "But he started commanding his fastball and made huge strides with his curveball and changeup. He's pretty special. If he's commanding his fastball and getting his offspeed stuff over, you're in trouble. Good luck." Another unknown is durability. In his first 12 appearances for the Rangers last season, he allowed one run on five hits and a walk in 22 innings while striking out 28. In his last eight appearances, he allowed five runs on eight hits and seven walks in nine innings while striking out 11. His velocity also dropped as the season came to a close. "There is a phenomenon in this game," Maddux said. "It's called first time playing in September. It's something you have to learn. In the Minor Leagues, you play 144 games over five months. You have to condition yourself for six months. Until you do it, you don't know how to prepare for it.
Top 10 in opposing batting average last season*
"The phrase is, 'Running out of gas.' That's what happened, but he wasn't the only one."When the season was over, Feliz had pitched a combined 108 innings between Oklahoma City and Texas. He threw 127 innings the year before. If he's a starter, that total will increase significantly. Obviously, he's not going to be targeted for 200 innings, but even 170 innings will be a significant step. "The kid is a bulldog." Washington said. "He can handle it. If we see fatigue, we'll make an adjustment. That's something we don't want to worry about right now." There is a reverse scenario. Another year in the bullpen won't get him any closer to building up to a 200-inning frontline starter. If the Rangers stick to the plan of doing what's best for the team, that could mean the bullpen. There is strong sentiment for both Feliz and Wilson remaining a part of a formidable bullpen as setup relievers behind closer Frank Francisco. There are six candidates for the last two spots in the rotation, but the Rangers have made it clear that Tommy Hunter is a leading candidate for one of those spots. That leaves Feliz competing with Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Brandon McCarthy and fellow reliever C.J. Wilson for the final spot. Harrison and Holland are also both left-handers. That might be a consideration if the Rangers strive for some diversity in an otherwise right-handed rotation. "I prefer to start, but I will be just as happy to make the team as a reliever," Feliz said. He will make the team somewhere. Only the role remains to be determined.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.