Commentary

Rangers have to stick with Neftali Feliz

Manager Ron Washington has no choice but to keep giving ball to slumping closer

Updated: May 29, 2011, 10:35 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The manager said he's not worried about the closer.

He should be.

While Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington doesn't have many options in terms of replacing Neftali Feliz, it's clear there are problems with the 2010 AL Rookie of the Year.

First it was his shoulder, which required a trip to the 15-day disabled list. Then it was his inability to throw off-speed pitches to mix with his fastball. In fact, Feliz said his mechanics needed work.

After his closer gave up a go-ahead run -- although unearned -- in Sunday's 7-6 victory over the Royals, Washington was asked what the problem is with Feliz.

Feliz Sometimes pitchers go through slumps, just like hitters go through slumps. And he's in a slump.

-- Rangers manager Ron Washington on closer Neftali Feliz (pictured)

"Command," is all the manager would say.

With 17 of the next 20 games on the road, the first seven against the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cleveland Indians, the Rangers need their closer to find some consistency.

He doesn't have it.

"All I want Neffy to do is be Neffy," Washington said. "He's healthy, [there's] nothing wrong with him.

"Sometimes pitchers go through slumps, just like hitters go through slumps. And he's in a slump and we got to keep giving him the ball, until that one day he goes out there and everything falls into place and then we can move forward. The questions I'm getting, I'm definitely tired of answering."

Things were so bad for Feliz, Washington pulled him for left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes in the ninth inning. Washington said the move was made so he could send a lefty versus Royals No. 3 hitter Eric Hosmer, a left-handed bat. Maybe it had nothing to do with Hosmer's homer off Feliz last week in Kansas City. Rhodes retired Hosmer on a fly ball.

The ninth inning for Feliz was bad from the start in a 5-5 game. Chris Getz's double to right was hit hard, and Nelson Cruz's error let Getz move to third. Alcides Escobar's sacrifice fly to left brought home Getz to break the tie.

After Alex Gordon flew out to right, Melky Cabrera smacked one off the glove of first baseman Mitch Moreland for an error. With the ballpark in silence, Washington made the walk from the dugout and took out his closer. There was some light applause from the fans, probably thanking the manager from putting them out of their misery.

In his previous five appearances before Sunday's outing, Feliz had three blown saves and two saves.

Washington shouldn't replace Feliz. The young man is too talented to give up on. Besides, who else is going in there? Darren Oliver? Mark Lowe? Michael Kirkman?

Of course not.

Washington is right about Feliz. Pitchers go through slumps, just like hitters. But when a closer hits a slump, it costs ball games.

The Rangers have 11 losses after holding a lead and a 7-9 mark in one-run games this season. They went 30-23 in one-run games last season on their way to the American League pennant.

"Of course I want him to be consistent," Washington said. "I want him to close ball games. But if I had the secret, I would definitely run it by him and give it to him. It's something he has to work out and we'll keep giving him the ball."

As they should.

Calvin Watkins covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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