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Sunday, June 19, 2011
Has the dominant Neftali Feliz returned?

By Richard Durrett

ATLANTA -- It certainly seems like it. The Neftali Feliz that has recorded saves the last two games sure looks like that version that won the 2010 AL Rookie of the Year Award and set a rookie record with 40 saves.

After an inconsistent season and a stint on the disabled list, Feliz's swagger is back. That confidence that was missing for most of this season appears to be back.

"He's getting ahead and is down in the zone," manager Ron Washington said. "He's started using some of his off-speed stuff also. His velocity is back and when you're hitting the strike zone down and when you elevate, you don't have a lot of time to react to it. He's getting some swings and misses."

Feliz was throwing his fastball as high as 98 mph the last two games and was able to mix in some off-speed stuff to make it look even faster. He has six straight outs and four of them are strikeouts. On Saturday, he got the top of the Braves order to protect a one-run lead in the 10th inning, striking out left-handed hitters Jordan Schafer and Jason Heyward. By getting the Braves in order, he avoided having to pitch to Brian McCann, who had hit a homer earlier in the game.

Before the last two games, Feliz had 13 strikeouts and 15 walks. That was not like what he did in 2010, when he had 71 strikeouts and 18 walks. But the last two games, he's had solid command and hasn't walked anyone, while fanning four.

"I feel better, almost like my best last year," Feliz said through a translator. "The work I'm putting into it, getting used to it and the support from the team, I feel like it's coming together for me."

That's the Feliz the Rangers need if they're to start doing a better job of holding leads and closing teams out. Of course, Feliz needs his teammates to get the game to him with a lead, but when they've done that the last two games, he's made sure to completely slam the door.