Neftali Feliz was an electric, hard-throwing, intimidating big-league closer for the Texas Rangers in 2010 and 2011, earning AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2010 and setting a then-record for saves in a season by a rookie.
Since 2011, when he blew a save in Game 6 of the World Series in what could've been a shining moment and a World Series clincher, Feliz has fallen on hard times. He's been coverted to a starter, undergone Tommy John surgery, returned to the bullpen, lost his velocity and lost the closer's gig this spring to Joakim Soria while he spent the majority of the season in the minors.
Now, with Soria out of the picture, the Rangers have given the closer's job back to Feliz, and on Friday night in his first game as the team's closer, Feliz came through and earned his first save since 2011 in the Rangers' lone win over the A's in their weekend series in Arlington.
Feliz allowed two baserunners in the ninth, but kept the A's off the scoreboard to close out a 4-1 victory.
“He got it done,” Rangers manager Ron Washington told reporters on Friday night. “I’m more than certain the more he gets the ball, the easier it will probably come.
“I’m not going to say ‘easy’ in the sense that he’s going to make it easy, but he might’ve had some nerves out there tonight, but he’s familiar with the role. We’ll just keep giving him the ball and see where it goes.”
This is a huge chance for Feliz, who's still only 26, to regain his status as an elite arm in the organization and in the game. If he can pitch well over these final couple of months, he'll enter the spring as the Rangers' closer and let the Rangers focus elsewhere in the winter with some other holes to fill on the roster.