By signing Joe Nathan to a two-year, $14.5 million contract the Rangers showed that they’re committed to moving Neftali Feliz into the rotation and the 23-year-old closer issued a statement saying he’s on board with the switch:
Jon Daniels and Ron Washington called me a couple of days ago and told me about the team’s decision for me to be a starting pitcher next season. I was a starter for my whole career before I came to the major leagues. I am happy to know the team’s decision this early, and I have plenty of time to get ready. I have already started running. I have time to work on my changeup and all my pitches. I know I have to work hard to be ready to help my team as a starter so we can get back to the playoffs.
Communicating their intentions ahead of time seems like an important thing after the Rangers waffled on their preference for his role last spring training and Feliz in turn was also unsure. He worked as a starter early in camp and then shifted back to the bullpen, with Alexi Ogando instead emerging as the bullpen-to-rotation success story of 2011.
Feliz has had more success at a younger age than just about any closer in baseball history, but as he said in the statement he came up through the minor leagues as a top-rated starter prospect and it always makes sense to find out if a young pitcher can thrive in a 200-inning role before putting him in a 70-inning role for life.
If he establishes himself as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter and Nathan stays healthy at closer the Rangers will have essentially replaced C.J. Wilson for $7 million per season. And after moving Wilson and Ogando into the rotation during the past two seasons Texas deserves a lot of credit for thinking outside the box with starting pitching.