I hate it when awesome young pitchers who started in the minor leagues are turned into big league relievers and then everyone talks about how much better suited they are for the bullpen. Of course they’re dominant out of the pen! almost every pitcher is better out of the pen. They can throw harder. They don’t have to face as many guys. They don’t have to face the same guys more than once. They can ignore their shakier pitches. Making a good starter into a great reliever is no big trick if all you want to do is make a great reliever.
I’ve been particularly worried about this happening in the case of Neftali Feliz, who showed in the minors that, if given the chance, he can be an effective starting pitcher. So, when the Rangers didn’t get Cliff Lee my first thought was “Great! Now the chances of Neftali Feliz starting are better!”
Of course, when they traded Frank Francisco yesterday I thought “Bummer! Now they’re more likely to keep him in the pen!” Thankfully Rangers’ assistant GM Thad Levine was on my buddy Mike Ferrin’s show on SiriusXM last night to clarify matters:
Ferrin: “You lose a key component in your bullpen in Frank Francisco, a big strike out guy, one of your bridges to the ninth inning. Does this move impact where Neftali Feliz starts the season at all or is the plan still to have him go to spring training to compete for a rotation spot?”
Levine: “[Neftali Feliz] is going to come into spring training stretched out as a starter. He’ll get every opportunity to compete for a rotation spot. Probably there’s a little bit more onus now on him really wowing us in spring training to inspire the move but we feel – with the likes of Mark Lowe, maybe Alexi Ogando as the next young up-and-coming power arm out of our pen, and then we certainly have two very strong veterans in Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes – we’ve got the makings of a very formidable back end of the bullpen. And we’re very open-minded to Feliz starting the year in the rotation. He’s going to have to be awful impressive because I think our manager sure likes him pitching the last three outs of the game.”
Well, that’s not really any more clear. All I can hope is that Ron Washington’s love of those “last three outs of the game” three times a week doesn’t trump what’s best for the first 21 outs of the game every five days.
Dodgers’ left fielder Andrew Toles crushed his first spring training home run on Saturday afternoon. With the bases loaded and a two-run deficit hanging over their heads in the fourth inning, Toles stepped up to the plate against Oakland right-hander Jesse Hahn and unloaded a grand slam on the second pitch he saw.
Third baseman Justin Turner was quick to follow up with a solo jack of his own, bringing the score to a comfortable 7-4 lead by the end of the fourth. Another three-run outburst in the fifth and an eighth-inning RBI single by Austin Barnes raised the final score to 11-6… which, coincidentally, was the same score the Reds used to defeat the Athletics’ second split-squad lineup on Saturday (albeit with a few more RBI walks than grand slams).
Toles, 24, is approaching his sophomore season with the Dodgers in 2017. He slashed .314/.365/.505 with three home runs and an .870 OPS in his first major league season in 2016 and is expected to platoon with the right-handed Franklin Gutierrez in left field this year.
David Price showed “strength improvements” in his elbow on Saturday, but Red Sox’ manager John Farrell still doesn’t think the left-hander will be ready to throw by the start of the season — or for a few weeks afterward. According to ESPN’s Scott Lauber, the 31-year-old might not be ready to debut until May at the earliest.
Price hasn’t thrown off of a mound this spring after experiencing soreness in his left elbow on March 1. Surgery doesn’t appear to be necessary, but the Red Sox are playing it extra safe with their No. 3 starter in hopes that rest and rehabilitation will return him to full health sometime during the 2017 season. For now, Price has been restricted to short games of catch until he’s cleared to resume a more rigorous throwing program. Via MLB.com’s Ian Browne:
[There were] strength improvements to the point of putting the ball back in his hand a little more consistently,” said manager John Farrell. “Today’s the first step for that. A short game of catch. That’s what he’s going through. Not off a mound but just to get the arm moving with a ball in flight, and he will continue in this phase for a period of time. There’s no set distance and volume yet to the throws.
The lefty is coming off of a lackluster 2016 season, during which he delivered a 3.99 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 230 innings for the Red Sox.