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Friday, January 3, 2014
Ranger Resolutions: Find a closer

By Richard Durrett

Note: This week, we're running a series titled "Ranger Resolutions" as we look at some things the Texas Rangers hope to do better in 2014.

Today's resolution: Find a closer

It's one of the few remaining questions for the Rangers as they steam toward spring training, which starts in just a month and a half. The good news: The Rangers have some good possible answers, they just have to settle on one.

Texas made the decision not to re-sign closer Joe Nathan, who did an excellent job in his two All-Star seasons with the club. But Nathan wanted a multiyear deal and the Rangers didn't want to pay a premium price to keep him knowing they had to use their money on bats this offseason.

The other reason they could afford to let Nathan go (he eventually signed with Detroit) was that they have three realistic internal candidates who can handle the job.

That list starts with Neftali Feliz, who comes into spring training as the favorite to earn the job, if he proves he's healthy and ready. Feliz is returning from Tommy John surgery and pitched in six games for Triple-A Round Rock near the end of last season, allowing no runs on four hits in 8 2/3 innings with nine strikeouts and two walks. He went to the Dominican Republic to pitch in winter ball and gave up three runs on six hits in 9 2/3 innings, though two of those three runs in one rough outing Dec. 10. One of Feliz's two walks in those 10 appearances was in that outing as well.

Feliz was the club's closer in 2010 and 2011, so he has experience and knows what it takes to do that role. And he's said that he wants to close. But he also has to prove that mentally he's completely put how the 2011 season ended in the rearview mirror.

Feliz isn't the only candidate. The club has two others: Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers. The Rangers signed Soria before last season knowing that he wouldn't be able to help them until midway through the year, coming off injury. Soria ended up with a 3.80 ERA and showed flashes of his old self. He finished the year with scoreless outings in 12 of his final 14 appearances and he was an All-Star closer for the Kansas City Royals in 2010, when he had 43 saves. He also had 28 saves in 2011. So Soria certainly knows how to close and is an option.

Scheppers came into his own as a solid, setup reliever in 2013. He made 76 appearances (76 2/3 innings) and sported a 1.88 ERA and a 6-2 mark. Scheppers had a great first few months, but was inconsistent at times in July and August before rebounding with a strong September. In the final month, Scheppers put up a 1.13 ERA and 14 strikeouts to just two walks in 16 innings. Alexi Ogando is slated to be in the rotation, though if something changes there, perhaps he gets a chance to throw his hat in the ring. But as of now, the Rangers are planning on him starting.

As the new year is now upon us, the Rangers must figure out the back end of the bullpen, starting with the closer. The Rangers can afford to let things play out and see how each guy in the trio does this spring before making any decisions. It should make for an interesting competition.