Rangers' rotation shaping up without Feliz

Rangers' rotation shaping up without Feliz

Rangers' rotation shaping up without Feliz
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Neftali Feliz will be in a familiar role on Wednesday.

He is scheduled to pitch the seventh, eighth and ninth innings against the Athletics in Surprise, Ariz. Feliz, who was supposed to start the game, is instead returning to the back of the bullpen. Derek Holland will start in his place.

"I don't think I have to tell you why we're doing that," manager Ron Washington said before Tuesday's game against the Angels.

The Rangers came into Spring Training considering the possibility of moving Feliz into the rotation. That idea hasn't been officially scrapped, but it is quickly fading in the desert air for a variety of reasons.

One is Feliz's reluctance to switch after having tremendous success as an All-Star closer last year. He had 40 saves, made the All-Star team and was the American League Rookie of the Year.

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Another reason is other starters are stepping up. Both Holland and Matt Harrison are muscling their way into possible prominent places in the Rangers' rotation.

Harrison has made two appearances and allowed one run on three hits over five innings with two walks and a strikeout. He has easily been one of the most impressive pitchers early in camp.

Holland has made one start, allowing one run on three hits in two innings against the Cubs on Thursday. He struck out two and did not walk a batter in the road game of the Rangers' split-squad afternoon.

Washington was at home watching Feliz pitch against the Indians. On Wednesday, the manager will get to see both, and this would be a good time for Holland to make his move.

"From the reports I heard, he was using his breaking ball, had a pretty good changeup and was using his fastball inside," Washington said. "That's what he needs to do. At least this time I will get a chance to see him. I've seen two of his live [batting-practice] sessions and I liked what I saw."

David Bush, who has also allowed just one run in five innings over two appearances, and Michael Kirkman remain in strong contention for spots in the rotation as well. There is still a question of how many spots are open, but it could be as many as three. The consolation prize for somebody could be the long-reliever spot in the bullpen.

"They're all pitching well," Washington said. "That's the good depth that we have."

The Rangers know that C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis will be the first two starters. Tommy Hunter, who won 13 games last year, should be the third starter, but he hasn't locked that up yet.

Brandon Webb continues to progress in his throwing program, but the Rangers clearly aren't planning on him being ready for Opening Day. He shouldn't be too long after that, but he will have his first live batting-practice session on Wednesday.

Webb, the 2006 National League Cy Young winner and a 22-game winner in '08 for the Arizona Diamondbacks, has missed almost two complete seasons because of a shoulder injury. Over the past three weeks, he has progressed from a long-toss program designed to build up arm strength to throwing off a mound in the bullpen. Live batting practice will be his first chance to face hitters.

"He's progressing," Washington said. "That's a good step forward. We went from long toss to bullpen to throwing live BP. Depending on how that goes, we'll set a plan from there."

Webb is still way ahead of Scott Feldman. The Rangers' Pitcher of the Year in 2009, Feldman had surgery on Nov. 3 to repair a microfracture in his right knee. He remains limited to flat-ground throwing in camp and may not get on a mound until the beginning of April. It may not be until June 1 or later that he becomes an option at the big league level.

The Rangers, coming into camp, originally designated 12 candidates for the five spots in the rotation. That included Lewis and Wilson, who were actually locks rather than "candidates." The actual list of candidates is being whittled.

Tanner Scheppers, who had the longest odds of the 12, is sidelined with stiffness in his lower back and isn't going to pitch anytime soon. The Rangers are still stretching out Alexi Ogando, who started and delivered three scoreless innings Monday, but he appears headed back to the bullpen.

The Rangers are taking the same approach with Feliz. That's why he is down for three innings against the Athletics. This also gives him a chance to work on his slider and changeup.

"We're going to keep him stretched out so he can use all his pitches," Washington said.

Then it's back to the bullpen, but the competition for spots in the Rangers rotation is far from finished.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.