Feliz equipped to be successful
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Neftali Feliz was blessed with the ability to throw a fastball in the upper 90s with a minimum of grunting, sweating and extraneous torque. The operative phrase is "easy gas.'' It's a trait he shares with Tampa Bay rookie Matt Moore, to name another hot commodity in his early 20s.
Fresh off a 32-save season -- and one high-profile blown save against St. Louis in Game 6 of the World Series -- Feliz is making the transition from pressurized cameos in the bullpen to a more programmed existence as a starter.
Feliz has been down this road before, with considerable success. In 2008, at the tender age of 20, he went 10-6 with a 2.69 ERA for Class A Clinton and Double-A Frisco. He struck out 153 batters and walked 51 in 127 1/3 innings.
The Rangers think he's equipped to be successful again because of his diverse repertoire and effortless delivery. Feliz threw his fastball about 80 percent of the time last season, but he also has a slider, curveball and changeup in his arsenal.
"He was a good closer and he did it pretty much with a pitch-and-a-half,'' said Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux. "He has three really good pitches, maybe four. But he wasn't going to get beat with something other than his fastball in that role. If we force him to use those other pitches, they'll become better and more reliable. And all of a sudden, you've got your hands full.''
Feliz, a solid 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, arrived in camp in terrific shape. He's intent on polishing his secondary stuff, even if it means getting cuffed around a little bit in the Cactus League.
As a starter, Feliz will have more time to tinker and work on pitches in the bullpen between outings. And when he does, he'll receive guidance from Maddux, one of baseball's best pitching coaches, and Maddux's brother Greg, who's ready to share some serious baseball knowledge as a special assistant in Texas. Heck, even the team president, a guy named Nolan Ryan, might have some observations to pass along.
Feliz enters the season with relatively little pressure. The Rangers have seven starters in Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, Feliz, Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman. So if they need to skip Feliz a start or back him off, they have the luxury to be flexible.
Feliz's businesslike demeanor this spring suggests this is more than just a lark or a temporary phase. "This is something he wants and wants badly,'' said a Rangers official. Let the transition begin.
Bard in prime position to excel
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Hey Jerry, let me give you a brief history on why I am so confident that Daniel Bard of the Red Sox will succeed in his transition from reliever to starter, and even more so than your pick to click, Neftali Feliz of the Rangers.
We don't have to go back far, just 10 years, in fact, when I saw the Red Sox take another guy out of the bullpen -- a guy who had failed miserably earlier in his career as a starter -- and put him in the rotation. You might have heard of him, because he won 21 games that season and is still going strong at age 38.
His name? Derek Lowe, and even though Lowe initially had gone the route projected for Bard -- from setup man to closer, saving 42 games for the Sox in the 2000 season when they lost Tom Gordon -- he called himself a "frustrated starter.'' Bard has not used that exact phrase, but make no mistake, the Red Sox didn't sell him on making the switch, he sold them. He's all-in on becoming a starter, and this spring has shown manager Bobby Valentine that his commitment extends to things like fielding his position -- he led his teammates in the pitcher's fielding practice competition -- and holding on runners.
Yes, Bard had a horrendous first season in the minor leagues as a starter, when he couldn't find the plate, but that's a little like pointing at the 56 errors Derek Jeter made as a 19-year-old as a barometer of what kind of shortstop he would be. The important thing is, Bard figured it out, got his confidence back, and is supremely confident about this switch to starter.
Just Tuesday, he said this: "I'm not going to guarantee any great success, but I'm not going to rule it out, either. I can tell you that in my mind, I can't see any reason why I can't go out and be as good as anybody on this staff, and we have some really good pitchers.''
It can't hurt that Bard has a pitching coach, Bob McClure, who made a similar transition when he was pitching for the Milwaukee Bewers. Sure, we can't say for sure how Bard -- or Feliz -- will do now that they have to go through a lineup three times instead of facing a hitter just once, but I don't see Bard as a one-trick pony. His four-seamer and slider remain his dominant pitches, but he has a lot of confidence in his two-seamer, which will get him some quick outs, and the changeup is coming. I think Bard, a couple of years older and having experienced failure along the way, might be better equipped to deal with adversity, too, than Feliz.
Hey, "Feliz" means "happy" in Spanish. "Bard" means poet, especially the teller of great deeds. I like my guy's chances of living up to his name.