Feliz takes struggling Francisco's role

Updated: April 12, 2010, 1:35 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

Frank FranciscoAP Photo/Tim SharpRangers manager Ron Washington takes the ball from Frank Francisco on Saturday after he suffered his second blown save of the young season.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Neftali Feliz, the Texas Rangers' hard-throwing youngster, is taking over as the club's closer, replacing the struggling Frank Francisco.

Manager Ron Washington made it official Sunday morning before the Rangers bounced back from Francisco's second blown save with a 9-2 win in the rubber match against the Seattle Mariners.

Washington said Francisco isn't the "animal" he's used to seeing on the mound.

"He's not the guy we've seen come in and make people understand that the game is over," Washington said. "We just want to give him a chance to pitch in situations where it doesn't matter what happens. Feliz is going to get the chance to get those last three outs in the ninth."

Feliz, 21, pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning Saturday, handing a 3-1 lead over to Francisco, who was tagged with three runs on three hits to cough up the lead and the game in the ninth. It was his second blown save in three days.

Francisco said afterward that he's having trouble locating his fastball. He tried to set up Mariners batters with fastballs down and away, but it wasn't working as he gave up hard hit balls to the gaps. His velocity is also down by two to three mph, but Francisco downplayed velocity as a concern.

"We need to give him some time to get things together," Washington said. "There is no way we can get through this year and do what we want to do without Frankie Francisco. Frankie will be the closer for the Texas Rangers."

For now, it is Feliz, and there's little reason to believe Francisco will return to his coveted spot as long as Feliz has success.

Since giving up a run-scoring single to Toronto's Vernon Wells in the season opener, Feliz has been efficient with his pitches and nearly unhittable, sitting down all six batters he's faced, four by strikeout.

With Feliz as the closer and Francisco picking up middle-relief innings that present opportunities to work on his issues, Darren Oliver will move into the set-up role in the eighth inning.

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