Neftali Feliz had another good start on Saturday.
He went five innings, struck out three, walked two and allowed two runs while flashing superior command of all three pitches in his arsenal. It was the kind of performance that reminded everyone why so many people want to see Feliz as a starting pitcher and the kind of performance that usually gets people associated with the team irrationally exuberant about the year to come.
Nolan Ryan had a different take on things when he spoke to Gil Lebreton of the Star-Telegram, though. The old hurler started by wondering if they could clone Feliz so that he could both start games and close them in 2011. Even after conceding that Feliz looked more "starter-ish" than ever before, Ryan wasn't ready to actually call him a starter.
"It's an interesting dilemma," Ryan said.
Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk took great umbrage at that assessment. He has good reason. There really isn't a dilemma involved in choosing to make a pitcher a starter over a reliever. There's no question that excellent starters are more valuable than even the best closers and Calcaterra is upset that Ryan and Lebreton won't just admit it.
Maybe this is giving Ryan too much benefit of the doubt, but that's not what it seems like the dilemma is in this case. If Feliz is an excellent starter capable of throwing 170 innings or more, there's no question he should be starting games. Part of the dilemma is whether or not it is the best choice for the Rangers, right now, to shift Feliz.
Leave aside the questions about who would close or worries about the rest of the bullpen for the moment, because it is easier to just make this about Feliz. What if he is just a good starter or, heaven forbid, something worse than that? What if he doesn't hold up to the rigors of an entire season as a starter? What if they make the playoffs and he's already thrown more innings than the team feels comfortable with in a single season?
All of these are reasonable questions that the Rangers have to ask themselves and their answers change the equation greatly from one that rightly concludes that excellent starters are more valuable than excellent relievers. That brings us to the other part of Ryan's dilemma.
The Rangers can't know all the answers without seeing Feliz in the rotation which is an awfully open-ended place to find yourself when you plan to contend for the World Series.