Neftali Feliz made things interesting again on Wednesday afternoon.
He entered with a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning and got the first batter he faced out on a fly ball. He then walked two straight batters before escaping the inning with a pair of outs. The result was obviously better than the two blown saves he picked up against the Royals, but it was hardly a confidence builder given how shaky he's been since getting off the disabled list.
He's now walked nine batters against just two strikeouts in his seven-plus innings of work since returning to action, a ratio that would make even little leaguers blush. That run leaves his total for the year at 14 walks against eight strikeouts, a significant and disconcerting drop for a guy who struck out almost four batters for every one he walked last season.
What's even odder is that he has walked 11 righty hitters without striking out a single one so far this season. The breakdown was 31 strikeouts to eight walks against righties last season which would indicate something very different is going on for the closer.
The funny thing is, assuming Feliz is as healthy as he says he is, there's no easy explanation for the difference in results. His velocity is essentially the same as it was last season, he's throwing the same variety of pitches and the location mix looks to be about the same. There's a bit less horizontal movement on his fastballs, but that alone doesn't account for the change in results.
Feliz is throwing fewer pitches in the zone, but you already knew that. Hitters are making contact at a higher rate than they did in 2010, but they aren't doing anything more damaging with those pitches. Swinging strikes are down, although you'd expect that given the rest of the data available to us.
With almost everything else being equal, then, Feliz has simply stopped throwing strikes at the same frequency, especially when he's facing hitters on the right side. That would lead to a guess of scouting to account for hitters laying off a certain pitch, but Feliz isn't really that kind of pitcher. He doesn't put it right over the middle of the plate, but he doesn't really rely on hitters chasing pitches either.
One thing sticking out about Feliz since coming off the DL is that he's relying almost exclusively on the fastball. That leads us back to concerns about the shoulder, but, again, Feliz and the Rangers both say that nothing is wrong.
All in all, the fact that there's no single cause for concern is more worrisome than if there was something obvious wrong with Feliz. At least that would be fixable wheras all we have here are a bunch of scraps of paper that add up to more questions than answers.