Shoulder stiffness leads to Neftali Feliz’s early exit

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Neftali Feliz, who is making the switch from the closer’s role to the rotation this spring, came out of his start Tuesday against the Cubs after three innings due to right shoulder stiffness.

Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News has some details:

Feliz had pitched three scoreless innings on 49 pitches against the Cubs and was scheduled to go four innings or about 65 pitches. His fastball was at 90-92 mph in the first inning when he relied on the sinker, but he was more regularly at 95 mph later in the outing and topped out at 97.

Feliz also worked as a starter for part of last spring before shifting back to the closer’s role for Texas. He went on to struggle in the first half, during which he also missed a couple of weeks with shoulder inflammation, but he improved as the year went on.

It will be interesting to see what Texas does with Feliz now seemingly likely to start the year on the DL. Alexi Ogando was expected to be in the rotation before the Yu Darvish signing, and he’s obviously deserving of the spot after his strong performance last year. But if Feliz is only going to miss a couple of weeks, it’d probably make more sense to leave Ogando in the pen and let Scott Feldman take the couple of spot starts next month.

And as for Feliz, this isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. The Rangers wanted to keep him under 150 innings this year anyway, so they’ll be extra cautious. If he doesn’t start a game for the team until May, well, that just makes it more likely that he’ll be a factor into September and, hopefully, the postseason.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.