When speaking in a radio interview with KTCK 1310/96.7 on Monday, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington was quick to point something out about his roster. Despite basically being anointed as the replacement for Joe Nathan thanks to his previous experience, Neftali Feliz is far from being the Rangers closer when the season begins in less than three weeks.
Feliz, who was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2010 with 40 saves and served as the team's closer during its 2010 and 2011 World Series seasons, hasn't pitched in any kind of leverage situation since 2012, when he was shut down and forced to undergo Tommy John surgery after starting the year in the team's starting rotation. Feliz was tabbed as the favorite to win the closer's job this spring but he has plenty of competitors chasing him, including another former all-star closer in Joakim Soria and an elite setup man in Tanner Scheppers.
So far, things haven't been going well for Feliz in spring training. After reportedly dialing up his velocity to the upper 90s in winter ball, he's struggling to get out of the low 90s this spring, and that's a big concern. In Monday's outing against the Reds, Feliz worked a scoreless ninth inning but never topped 92 mph and had just one swing-and-miss in 14 pitches. That's not closer stuff.
“I’d like to see his velocity get a little better and sustained,” Washington told reporters. “It doesn’t have to get up to 99, but I’d like to see his velocity better and sustained.”
Washington also added that time is running out for Feliz to prove he's ready to reclaim the ninth-inning role for the Rangers. And even if he does, he'll most likely be on a very short leash.
“When you’ve been doing it for eight or nine years at the end of a bullpen, we’ll let you kick it in when you’re ready to kick it in because we know that you will kick it in,” Washington said. “This guy hasn’t pitched in two years. I’d like to see it get better sooner than later.”