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Feliz to close as Rangers name rotation

Feliz to close as Rangers name rotation

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Feliz to close as Rangers name rotation
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers pitcher Neftali Feliz said his goal was to make the starting rotation. He could still do that, but he will have to wait until 2012.

The Rangers announced on Thursday that Feliz will stay in their bullpen and be the closer again this season. But they also said the plan is to find a new closer during the next offseason and finally move Feliz into the rotation in 2012.

"That's still eight or nine months away," general manager Jon Daniels said. "But I would think that in the next offseason, that's the way we're preparing."

Right now, though, the Rangers announced Thursday they are going with a rotation of C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland. The Rangers also announced before their Thursday afternoon game with the Reds that Tommy Hunter would be in the rotation.

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That was before Hunter strained his right groin muscle in the third inning of the Rangers' 15-13 victory over the Reds. Hunter underwent an MRI on Thursday night, and the Rangers won't know the results until Friday. There is a good chance that Hunter will not be ready for the season, but Daniels said that won't change their decision about Feliz.

"I don't think it will," Daniels said. "It was about the makeup of the club as much as Neftali. Where we are as a club, we feel we will be better off with Neftali in the bullpen."

Michael Kirkman, who was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock on Thursday, is the leading candidate to be the Rangers' fifth starter if Hunter has to begin the season on the disabled list. Veteran Dave Bush is another possibility.

Feliz pitched well enough to be a starter. He had a 1.93 ERA in three starts and one relief appearance going into Thursday night's game against the Padres. But the Rangers felt he was needed more in the bullpen after doing so well as the closer last year. The Rangers just didn't feel comfortable with any of the alternatives they had at closer and had more concerns about the bullpen than the rotation as the spring progressed.

"That's their decision," Feliz said. "I feel proud of the way I prepared as a starter. They did mention they weren't closing the door for me to be a starter. But now I am preparing mentally for the closer's role. All I'm thinking about is being the closer and doing that job."

Feliz ranked third in the American League with 40 saves, was selected to the AL All-Star team and was named AL Rookie of the Year after the season.

"I'm not disappointed," Feliz said. "Like I said, it's their decision. I will do whatever it takes to help the team win. I'm really not disappointed at all."

Daniels admitted that he has wondered if the Rangers should have gone harder for bullpen help in the offseason and been better prepared to move Feliz into the rotation.

"There were a couple of guys we did pursue," Daniels said. "Time will tell. It is tempting to think about him every fifth day in the rotation. But we're happy with the way the club is setting up."

Feliz will head a bullpen that includes left-handed setup relievers Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver, and right-handers Darren O'Day and Alexi Ogando. But manager Ron Washington revealed there are two open spots in the bullpen.

Mark Lowe is no longer a lock for a job. He is competing with right-handers Pedro Strop, Brett Tomko, Bush and Rule 5 Draft pick Mason Tobin for the final two spots in the bullpen. Lowe was considered a lock going into camp but has a 14.14 ERA in seven games.

"He just needs to start getting someone out," Washington said. "We like his stuff. We like Mark Lowe. He just needs to get someone out."

Harrison earned one spot by going 2-0 with a 3.79 ERA in five starts, while Holland is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA in four starts. Both have been in and out of the rotation for the past two years but have earned a spot again this spring.

Holland is 9-16 with a 5.72 ERA in 31 starts over the past two years, while Harrison is 14-9 with a 5.67 ERA in 32 career starts.

"I feel pretty good about our rotation," Washington said. "I know it's young, but these guys have the opportunity to step up, and I'm confident they will. They will have their hiccups, but they'll have more good days than bad days.

"Harrison is more mature, he's throwing more strikes and he's using all his pitches. He is throwing the ball very well. Holland looks like he's grown up. We have to make sure we keep him the same ... attacking hitters, out there thinking and continuously pitching. I believe he and Harrison have grown a lot."

Two of the Rangers' most experienced starters will not be in the rotation on Opening Day. Both Brandon Webb and Scott Feldman will start the season on the disabled list.

Webb has missed almost two complete seasons because of shoulder surgery and his throwing program has been halted by some soreness in his right shoulder. He was unable to throw live batting practice on Wednesday and will likely take a couple of days off before resuming his program.

But it will likely be well into May or even June before Webb is an option for the Rangers.

"We have to see what the process is," Washington said. "His destination will be Texas when he shows he's ready to pitch at the Major League level. I don't know when that is."

Feldman, who had knee surgery in November, still hasn't thrown off a mound. He is hoping to do so by April 1.

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.

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