Neftali Feliz gets shot at rotation

Updated: February 18, 2011, 5:42 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Texas Rangers will use this spring to answer one big question when it comes to AL rookie of the year Neftali Feliz: Should he close games or start them?

The club determined this offseason to stretch out Feliz, who signed a one-year deal Thursday for $457,160. He was third in the AL with 40 saves in 70 appearances and a 2.73 ERA last season.

Texas did the same thing with former reliever C.J. Wilson last year, and Wilson ended up with 15 wins and returns as the club's top starter.

"It's an opportunity for him to get out there and have a chance to use all his pitches," manager Ron Washington said Friday. "As an organization, we just want to make sure we don't shortchange this kid. That's why we want to give him a chance to see if he can start."

The answer to that question depends on several factors. The first is how well Feliz's secondary stuff looks in camp. He has the triple-digit fastball, but was also refining his off-speed pitches as 2010 progressed. Pitching coach Mike Maddux said that Feliz's raw stuff is ready to start in the majors, but that he doesn't have the consistency yet.

The decision also comes down to what's best for the team. Should Feliz show he's ready to start, the club would have to be comfortable with his replacement. Feliz set a rookie record for saves and was an integral part of the bullpen. Mark Lowe and Alexi Ogando must prove they are ready to get the final three outs.

"If you are faced with that decision, would you rather have 70 innings out of your No. 1 guy or 200 innings? It's kind of a no-brainer to me," Maddux said. "He's got to throw three pitches for strikes and get the ball down in the zone. He has the God-given talent to excel more than other guys who can do the same thing."

Feliz said this week that he doesn't care which role he's in and that he only wants to do what's best for the team. But either way, he plans to focus a large part of his spring to making his changeup and curveball more effective.

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.

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