Opening Time: Neftali Feliz flip-flops, eyes spot in rotation

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Just when we thought Neftali Feliz(notes) preferred to remain a closer, he's apparently changed his mind. This from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Jeff Wilson:

Right-hander Neftali Feliz, buoyed by confidence in a new cut fastball, just told reporters that he wants to be a starting pitcher and his goal the rest of spring training is to make the Rangers' rotation.

"That's what we're working for," he said. "Right now, [the goal] is to start."

We don't yet know if manager Ron Washington is prepared to change Feliz's role, but there's little doubt that others in the organization would like to see Neftali in the rotation. The 22-year-old pitched 4.0 innings against the Dodgers on Monday, allowing three hits, one walk and one earned run. He threw 59 pitches and struck out five batters, giving him nine Ks in 9.0 innings so far this spring. His ERA is just 1.00 and his WHIP is 1.11. After departing the game, he reportedly threw another 25-30 in the 'pen. And then he declared that he was interested in starting full-time.

As discussed last week, it's wrong to assume that Feliz's fantasy value will tank if he joins the rotation. We're talking about a guy with a four-pitch arsenal and an overpowering fastball. If the Rangers can develop him into a guy who gives the team 190-210 innings per season, and he provides a K-rate that's consistent with his talent level, then everyone wins. This is a bit of a short-term fantasy headache, however, because many of you have already drafted Feliz for saves, not wins.

For those speculating on potential closers in a post-Feliz era — and again, we don't yet know Neftali's role for 2011 — the leading in-house candidates are presumably Mark Lowe(notes), Alexi Ogando(notes) and Darren O'Day(notes). That's the order in which I'd add 'em, too. (Tanner Scheppers(notes) has been dealing with back pain this spring and seems likely to open the year in the minors, so he's off the radar for now). But it sounds like Washington cares a great deal about closing experience, so perhaps the Rangers will ultimately look to the trade market.

In other closing news…

Oakland's Andrew Bailey(notes) left his Monday appearance due to elbow/forearm discomfort, and he's reportedly visiting Dr. Andrews on Tuesday. Doesn't sound good. The A's have a decent collection of relievers, however, so this is an injury they're prepared to overcome. Brian Fuentes(notes) is the recommended add here, as we mentioned previously, but Grant Balfour(notes) could enter the mix as well.

Brad Lidge(notes) has been dealing with biceps tendinitis, so he'll get a few days off this week. He claims that if this were the regular season, he'd pitch through the soreness. (Of course he would. And he'd give up three runs per game for a week, receive a formal vote of confidence, then finally land on the DL).

Here's arguably the most disturbing sentence from the Philly.com story linked above: "A National League scout said Monday that Lidge's best fastball has been clocked at 88 mph this spring." So yeah, Lidge is going to be the subject of much fantasy discussion again this year. Ryan Madson(notes) is the appropriate handcuff. We've run this drill many times before.

According to MLB.com's Bill Ladson, the Nationals might go closer-by-committee to begin the season. Drew Storen(notes) has had a messy spring (10.13 ERA), although all the damage was actually done in his first three innings. In Storen's last two appearances, he's pitched 2.1 innings, allowing just one hit and one walk while striking out four. Tyler Clippard(notes) is still in the picture for the Nats, threatening Storen's status. This is a situation to monitor. Threat level elevated.

Not unlike Storen, Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel(notes) struggled in his early spring outings, but he's improved in recent efforts. His competition for saves, however, has been almost unhittable. Jonny Venters(notes) has given up just one hit and one walk over 6.0 spring innings, striking out four. The lefty made three appearances last week and was perfect in each.

Chris Sale's(notes) struggles continued on Monday, as he allowed four hits and three earned runs in an inning of work. His spring ERA jumped to 7.36, though he has nine Ks in 7.1 innings. Matt Thornton(notes) hasn't been completely lights-out (5.0 IP, 7 H, 2 ER), but he delivered a perfect inning on Sunday.

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Photo via AP Images

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