Big League Stew

Blown save raises questions about Rangers’ Neftali Feliz

Ian Casselberry
Big League Stew

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Neftali Feliz already wasn't having a good sophomore season for the Texas Rangers.

Despite compiling 22 saves for the defending AL champs, Feliz has struck out only 29 batters in 42 innings. He's also issued 20 walks, two more than he did in 71 innings last season.

Strikeouts down? (6.21 per nine innings, compared to 9.22 last year.) Walks up? (2.34 to 4.29.) Feliz's velocity has remained consistent, averaging 96 mph with his fastball. So maybe that's why Rangers manager Ron Washington has been hesitant to make a change. But with strikeouts down (6.21 per nine innings, compared to 9.22 last year)and walks up (2.34 to 4.29), shouldn't a red flag be going up too?

The incumbent closer may have been put on notice with the trade deadline acquisitions of Koji Uehara and Mike Adams, each of whom would be more than capable of taking over the ninth-inning role for the Rangers. Feliz certainly didn't help his case for keeping the job Saturday night, as he blew the one-run lead he was handed and gave up three runs in a 7-5 loss to the Cleveland Indians. The blown save was his sixth of the season, three more than he had all of last year. {YSP:MORE}

Feliz was pitching for the third straight day. But should that have been a factor, when Feliz threw 16 pitches on Thursday and 11 on Friday? Washington didn't seem to think so, and said as much after Saturday's game.

Something else to consider is that the ninth inning was perhaps an inch away from going very differently. Kosuke Fukudome led off with a drive to deep right-center that Nelson Cruz almost caught. Instead, the ball dropped in for a double, setting off the Indians' rally.

But it wasn't just bad luck that did in Feliz. He had trouble throwing his off-speed pitches for strikes, allowing Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley to sit on his fastball for run-scoring hits.

As you might expect, Washington says he still has confidence in Feliz as his closer. Though he's already questioned his closer's "fire." But maybe Feliz also has never quite recovered from working as a starter during spring training, only to go back to the bullpen. Changing his role again might rattle Feliz further.

The Rangers do have a safety net now, with Uehara and Adams in the fold. But how much longer will Washington wait to see whether he can trust Feliz to protect ninth-inning leads before deciding a change might be necessary?

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