Neftali Feliz made his spring training debut yesterday as a starter, throwing two scoreless innings against the Indians, and afterward manager Ron Washington told T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com that the Rangers “are very committed to giving him the opportunity” to join the rotation.
Feliz was primarily a starter in the minors, establishing himself as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, but shifted to relief at Triple-A in preparation for a mid-2009 call-up to the majors and has been in the Rangers’ bullpen ever since.
He won Rookie of the Year honors last season by saving 40 games with a 2.73 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 69 innings, but the Rangers are smartly trying to determine if he can make a big impact in a 200-inning role before locking the 23-year-old into a 70-inning role for the rest of his career, particularly after Washington’s rigid closer usage left Feliz without much of an impact during their run to the World Series.
Feliz struggled with his command yesterday and will have to re-adjust to relying on his off-speed pitches after throwing 83 percent fastballs as a reliever last season, but just two years ago Baseball America named him the 10th-best prospect in baseball as a starter. Washington noted that the attempted transition “is going to be a work in progress,” but the Rangers are doing the right thing by giving Feliz an opportunity to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. After all, he can always move back to the bullpen.
Mark Buehrle last pitched in 2015, for the Toronto Blue Jays. He was still pretty effective and toyed with the idea of pitching last season, but he never signed anywhere and is, for all intents and purposes, retired.
Now at least his number will be retired officially. It will be done by the club for which he had the most success and with which he is, obviously, most associated:
Buehrle pitched for the White Sox for 12 years. He was the model of consistency and durability in Chicago, logging over 200 innings a season in every single season but his rookie year, when he was primarily a reliever. He was a solid defender, a multi-time All-Star, tossed a perfect game in 2009 and helped the Chisox to their first World Series title in 88 years in 2005.
He was also one of baseball’s fastest workers, so I’m going to assume that, in his honor, the number retirement ceremony will last, like, a minute 20, after which everyone can get on with their dang day.
Terry Francona just won the American League pennant, the Manager of the Year Award and his Cleveland Indians will likely be among the favorites to win it all in 2017. Between that and his 17-year track record as one of the best managers in the business, he will have a job, somewhere, for as long as he wants one.
He said yesterday, however, that his body will likely limit how long he manages:
“It gets harder and harder physically. It really does. It takes me longer to recharge every year . . . I’ve had a lot of surgeries, a lot of health problems. It just takes a toll on you. I love [the game of baseball]. I really do, but I can’t see myself doing something else. But there is going to come a day when I feel like I’m shortchanging the team or the organization. That’s not fair.
“Even now, during batting practice, I’ll come in and get off my feet a little bit. I think everybody understands. But when there comes a day when it gets in the way, I’m going to have to pull back, and it’s not because I don’t love managing. You have to have a certain amount of energy to do this job right.”
Francona experienced some chest pains and had an elevated heart rate that caused him to leave a game early last season. In 2005 a similar episode caused him to miss three games while managing the Red Sox. He also has a history of embolisms and blood clots, some of which have hospitalized him.
With multiple World Series rings there isn’t much more in baseball that Francona can accomplish, but here’s hoping he sticks around and accomplishes a lot more before he trades in his baseball spikes for golf spikes and calls it a career.