2010 Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz went on the 15-day DL with shoulder inflammation today, and the immediate question becomes, who replaces him as the closer?
Analysis: There seems to be three choices here; Darren O’Day and Pedro Strop, and Arthur Rhodes. Strop has a sensational line (1.68 ERA, .118 BAA), but a monstrous 1.50 WHIP. O’day’s numbers (2.84 ERA, .250 BAA, 1.58 WHIP) are worse.
Strop seems to be too loose with no runners on base, indicative of his 8th inning last night – 2 walks, a single, and a sacrifice fly. He’s still raw, but never discount a 96 mph fastball to close out the 9th inning.
O’Day has struggled so far this season. He has walked 4 in 6.1 innings, while he walked 12 all last season in 62 innings. His velocity is down a little bit, down from the low 90’s to the high 80’s, and that’s having an impact on his control. Maybe the adrenaline of the 9th inning will get that little extra “oomph” on O’Day’s fastball that made him so dominant last season.
Rhodes is the most experienced arm in the bullpen. He hasn’t started a game since 1997. He was an All-Star for the first time last season, and is probably the first choice to close. He’s got the mental toughness needed for the position, but is the softest thrower of the three.
Projection: Manager Ron Washington loves to play matchups. The best guess is that if there’s a save situation with 2 or more right-handed batters, he’ll go with Strop or O’Day. If there’s 2 or more left-handed batters, he’ll go to Rhodes. Either way, Feliz isn’t expected to miss more than the 2 weeks he’ll be on the DL. I wouldn’t expect any reliever to get more than 3 saves in that span, so it’s not worth picking up a middle reliever.
After stating just a week ago that his heart was focused on closing, the Rangers fireballer pulled a complete 180 yesterday, telling reporters that his goal was to make the starting rotation out of camp.
Analysis: Talk of Feliz eventually joining Texas’s rotation began as soon as the Dominican righty hit the scene in 2009. After saving 40 games en route to a World Series berth last year, however, those rumors cooled off a bit but not for long. As soon as pitchers and catchers reported last month, speculation about the AL Rookie of the Year slotting in behind the likes of C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis heated up once again. Althouh Feliz has been absolutely dominant as a closer, the thought of him starting every fifth day is intriguing to the Rangers brass. An arm of his quality would soften the blow of losing Cliff Lee, and visions of a future ace are certainly no pipe dream. The team has not committed to this move, but they may choose to accommodate the 22-year-old’s desire to return to the role he occupied in 53 minor league starts from ’06-’09. Ron Washington’s club has more to consider, though, as Feliz is by far their best in-house closer option.
Projection: Striking out nine in as many innings so far this spring, Feliz has picked up right where he left off in October. Mixing in a newly refined cutter last week, it appears as if the Rangers phenom is attempting to widen his pitch array. If the Rangers feel comfortable with one of their other bullpen options taking over the ninth, or if GM Jon Daniels can get his hands on a more experienced stopper, then Feliz in the rotation should and will happen. While he’s bound to experience minor growing pains as a starter, the youngster’s stuff and guile alone may be enough to get him through even the rockiest of patches. Backed by a fundamentally sound defense and a prodigious lineup, Feliz would be in position to win 15 games with a 8.5-9.5 SO/9 rate. Although Fantasy owners may miss his save numbers, they’ll practically drool over his future numbers as a member of the Rangers staff.