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.