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.