Sunday, March 2, 2014
Neftali Feliz not concerned about velocity
By Richard Durrett
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- If Texas Rangers reliever Neftali Feliz came in as the favorite to win the closer's job, he hasn't done anything the first two weeks to end the discussion.
That's not to say that when March 31 comes, Feliz won't be the guy called upon to get the final three outs. But there's a long way between now and then Feliz hasn't seized the spot yet. It's still up for grabs.
Feliz didn't light up any radar guns Sunday as his fastball was clocked between 87 and 91 mph, perhaps even touching 92. But that's not close to the winter ball reports that had him in the mid-90s and Feliz himself saying he hit 97. But the former closer who is hoping to reclaim his job isn't worried. He's been in spring training many times and is convinced that he's ramping up and that his arm strength will improve.
His focus now is on his mechanics, specifically his arm slot.
"I'm working on getting my arm up and keeping the ball down," Feliz said after Sunday's performance. "That's what I need to do for my secondary pitches."
Feliz made his first appearance in Cactus League play Sunday and couldn't get his changeup down. He left two hanging and both were hit hard, including one for an opposite-field two-run homer by catcher Tyler Flowers in the sixth.
Two of the hits Feliz surrendered were with two strikes in the count, unable to finish off the at-bat. (It's worth noting that he didn't get much help behind him as he would have been out of the inning sooner if Josh Wilson hadn't dropped a ball and end a chance to turn a double play.)
“We’re constantly looking for that velocity," manager Ron Washington said. "I thought he did well. He got a ground ball for a double play. We turn that double play, he’s off the field. Yeah, you’ve got to pick him up when it doesn’t happen. He just left a fastball up and away to Flowers and he happened to hit out. The arm strength isn’t there yet and I asked if he’s fine and he said he’s fine. So he just has to keep working."
While Feliz was struggling, Joakim Soria looked solid. He got all three batters he faced and threw 16 pitches (nine strikes) in doing it. Tanner Scheppers, who is being stretched out to start but is another guy who could end up in a critical bullpen spot, gave up one hit and had one strikeout in two clean innings of work.
There's a lot of time left and no one knows that better than Feliz. But so far, the closer job is far from decided.