Bullpen wrap: Evolution of Neftali Feliz

October, 25, 2011
10/25/11
12:31
AM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Neftali Feliz has this impulsive little knack for having to rescue himself before saving the game.

[+] EnlargeNeftali Feliz
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireNeftali Feliz once more made things interesting toward the end, but once more he got the job done.
If the strong-armed closer had the Texas Rangers faithful biting their nails in the ninth inning of Game 4 (a non-save situation with a 4-0 lead), he must have had 6 million in the Metroplex in near-cardiac arrest as he flirted with danger before fanning Albert Pujols in a power-on-power matchup in the 4-2 Game 5 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals for a 3-2 World Series lead.

Feliz's M.O. this postseason has been to be so jacked up when he hits the mound that he sails fastballs up at the eyeballs and puts the lead-off man on with a free pass.

This time, he plunked Allen Craig with a 1-2 slider. The major issue there is that the mighty Pujols was up next representing the tying run.

"That's not the guy you actually want to see at home plate with somebody at first base," shortstop Elvis Andrus. "But we know how good [Feliz] is. He's a young guy with a lot of talent and you see him growing as a pitcher. You see it in that at-bat. He threw three or four nice breaking pitches to put Albert off-balance and you see the difference on that last swing."

Feliz quickly got ahead of Pujols, 0-2, using a second-pitch slider to get a foul ball. Pujols then laid off three pitches that Feliz hoped he would chase to go to a full count. On the sixth pitch, Craig took off and Pujols fouled it off. On the seventh pitch, Craig was running again, and again Pujols fouled it off just trying to stay alive.

"When we saw him with two strikes," Feliz said, "we saw with my breaking pitches that he was slow with his bat."

Feliz's eighth pitch whistled off the plate as Craig churned for second. Pujols reached for it and swung through it. Craig had no chance, gunned down for a second time by catcher Mike Napoli with Pujols at the plate.

"That was a very important at-bat," Feliz said. "Of course, I was trying to make the best pitches I could because I had a runner on base. Fortunately for me, I was able to get the job done."

The Drama King wasn't quite ready to let the 51,459 at Rangers Ballpark celebrate a final home win of the 2011 season. Feliz walked Matt Holliday to bring up lefty Lance Berkman.

Just as Feliz has done all postseason -- despite having just two more strikeouts (10) than walks/hit batters (eight) in his 10 appearances -- he struck out Berkman with an 81 mph slider. The five-pitch at-bat included two sliders, a cutter in the dirt and a pair or high 90-mph fastballs.

His array of quality pitches and varying speeds continued an evolution for one of the hardest-throwing closers in the game.

"I feel confident about my breaking pitches, my slow stuff because I have to show them and prove to them that I can work with them at any count and I can work with them on any count and work against them with more than my fastball," he said.

The only number that really matters for Feliz is six: Six saves in six opportunities.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Adrian Beltre
BA HR RBI R
.324 19 77 79
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Beltre 19
RBIA. Beltre 77
RA. Beltre 79
OPSA. Beltre .879
WC. Lewis 10
ERAC. Lewis 5.18
SOY. Darvish 182