As I woke up this morning, my mind was still focused on the Texas Rangers beautiful 1-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night. I was thinking of the brilliant game that Neftali Feliz pitched and how pleased I was that the Rangers had finally made the investment with him as a starter. As I had many thoughts racing through my mind, I asked myself this question.
What is different about Neftali Feliz in 2012 when compared to Alexi Ogando in 2011?
I was pretty certain I knew how Ogando's first start went last season, but I had to look it up to be certain. As I had remembered, Ogando also pitched a gem against the Mariners and sent everyone into a frenzy.
6IP 2H 0R 2BB 4SO
7IP 4H 0R 2BB 4SO
Obviously, they had remarkably similar debuts as starting pitchers, but what is the difference? Why would the Rangers remove someone like Ogando from the rotation to replace them with Feliz? Ogando already had a year under his belt of starting and now the Rangers are going to have to go down the same road to build Feliz' stamina.
The truth is that Ogando was never meant to into the rotation. There had always been that thought in the back of the Rangers heads, but it was in the back and not in the forefront like it had been with Feliz. In 2011, when the Rangers were breaking camp and Tommy Hunter went down with a groin strain, the Rangers had already decided they needed Feliz in the bullpen. They did not want to interfere with that, but they also did not see it as a long term move at the time. Ogando had been stretched out during the spring and the thought was that he would only be needed for a few weeks.
Ogando took off in 2011 and didn't look back for a very long time. He won his first seven decisions and carried a 2.92 ERA into the All-Star break. At the same time, Hunter had a setback in recovery and virtually removed himself from the equation. As everyone knows, Hunter was eventually dealt to the Orioles, Ogando stayed in the rotation until the postseason and Feliz remained the closer.
Once the offseason came around, the Rangers once again revisited the situation and knew that the best thing long term was for Ogando to be in the bullpen and Feliz in the rotation, but once again the question remained. Why?
There are many reasons of which some of them are age, mechanics and the fact that Feliz has always been a pitcher, but one of the main reasons was the changeup. The changeup is what will set them apart for many years to come.
Feliz showed on Tuesday night that he can throw three pitches for strikes and over time his slider and change should continue to improve. Those pitches have always been there for Feliz, even though you might not know it by his work as a closer. For Ogando it has always been a fastball and slider mix. The changeup has never been a major factor in Ogando's plan and it most definitely has never been a weapon.
According to BrooksBaseball.net, when Ogando made his first start last April he threw his fastball 63% of the time, slider 36% and he threw his changeup one time the entire game. That is significantly different from Feliz who threw 51% fastballs, 26% sliders and 23% changeups on Tuesday.
Feliz may not end up having as successful of a year in the rotation as Ogando did last year, but in the long term he is better suited for the rotation. The Rangers have known that all along and that is why this decision was made. It was the better long term solution for everyone involved. Ogando is much better suited for the bullpen, with two pitches that could be classified as deadly weapons and Feliz has all the tools to turn into a solid starting pitcher.
The Rangers know that they have a weapon with Ogando in the bullpen and he should be very successful there this season. It is not very common to have a middle-reliever make the All-Star team, but Ogando is the type of pitcher that could make it happen. He will be used in a variety of situations and his strengths will be magnified this year, just as they were last postseason.
While there are striking similarities between Ogando's and Feliz' first starts in the big leagues, the stories behind them are extremely different. They might have been against the same team and had almost the same numbers, but the way they accomplished the feats and the way they will continue to pitch are significantly different.
John Bowman is a lifelong baseball and Texas Rangers fan that loves to ponder the deeper aspects of the game. Some of his first baseball memories involve Arlington Stadium nachos, Charlie Hough's knuckeball, dirt on Pete Incaviglia's uniform and the voices of Mark Holtz and Eric Nadel as he fell asleep.
- Neftali Feliz
- Alexi Ogando