Feliz has night off but is still Rangers' closer

Feliz has night off but is still Rangers' closer

Feliz has night off but is still Rangers' closer
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers went into Sunday's game with Mike Adams as their closer. That's because Neftali Feliz pitched three days in a row.

But that's only a temporary situation, manager Ron Washington said. When Feliz is rested and ready to go, he is still the Rangers' closer.

"Neftali," Washington said. "But we'll probably give the ball to Adams [on Sunday] since Neftali is down."

But Feliz is still causing the Rangers some concern. He was the losing pitcher in the Rangers' 7-5 loss to the Indians on Saturday, when he allowed three runs in the ninth inning. It was his sixth blown save opportunity of the season, tied for the third most in the American League.

The Rangers upgraded their bullpen when they acquired Adams from the Padres and Koji Uehara from the Orioles right before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. They were acquired to help the Rangers nail down the seventh and eighth innings. The ninth still belongs to Feliz, but the Rangers need to be able to count on him.

Feliz picked up a save on Thursday against the Twins and was the winning pitcher on Friday against the Indians. He threw 16 pitches on Thursday and 11 on Friday. Saturday marked only the second time this season that he pitched in three consecutive games.

The other was in Seattle right after the All-Star break. But he had only thrown 12 pitches in his first two games when he was called upon to save a 3-1 game. He did so, retiring the side in order with two strikeouts.

"Until last night, he was great," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "He just hit his third night in a row. It happens. He just needs a day off. That's what he needs."

Feliz is healthy. He was throwing fastballs as high as 99 mph on Saturday. He threw 25 pitches and 20 were fastballs, including 11 of his first 12 pitches.

"Dance with what brought you," Maddux said. "He's got a good one. You throw two past a guy and he's having a hard time seeing it. Why back off? He has had a lot of success with it and trusts it. He trusts the breaking ball, too ... just continue to mix it in."

Feliz has thrown his four-seam fastball 83 percent of the time. That is the highest ratio among closers in the top 10 in saves in the AL. In the National League, only Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan (83.3 percent) throws his fastball more among the top 10 closers in saves.

"That's my best pitch," Feliz said. "If I'm in trouble, I have to rely on my fastball because that's my main pitch. Of course there are some situations where the hitter is sitting on my fastball and I can't rely only on that pitch. I've got to be able to throw an offspeed pitch, whether it's a breaking pitch or a slow pitch."

The AL may understand Feliz's growing dependence on his fastball. He was new in the AL last season. Now clubs have seen him and have a better read on his fastball. They also may understand that Feliz has trouble throwing his offspeed stuff for strikes and can't lay off it.

He is one of the hardest-throwing relievers in the game, but he averages just 6.21 strikeouts per nine innings. That's 20th among 22 Major League relievers with at least 20 saves on the season. On the Rangers, Mark Lowe averages 8.35 strikeouts per nine innings and Darren Oliver averages 7.82. Both have developed excellent breaking balls.

Whatever the reason, Feliz was 40-for-43 in save opportunities last season for a 93 percent rate that was third best in the AL. This season, he is 22-for-28 for a 78.6 success rate that is 11th among 16 qualifying relievers.

"Of course I feel bad every time it happens," Feliz said. "I feel bad that it didn't go my way. But when it's over, I leave it out there, that's the way it has to be."

Feliz has talked to C.J. Wilson about being a closer. Wilson had the job a few years ago and has been one of Feliz's biggest supporters. He has also talked to Adams, who has been one of the top setup relievers in the NL over the past four seasons.

"I talk to a lot of my teammates," Feliz said. "They tell me not to worry about it and keep my head up. Getting guys like Adams and Uehara will help me. They make our bullpen stronger. We can fight together as a team, and they can help me do a better job at there."

Adams almost was the Padres' closer. The plan was to make him the closer if they traded Heath Bell. Instead they traded Adams, because that's who the Rangers wanted the most. Both Adams and Uehara could be used as the Rangers' closer if Feliz falters down the stretch.

"To me, they both can be used anywhere," Washington said. "They've just got different stuff. Adams cuts the ball, sinks the ball; Uehara gets a lot of outs in the upper part of the strike zone. He's throwing 89, 90 mph, plus he's got some deception on his split. They're two different types of pitchers, but any situation late in the ballgame, I wouldn't be hesitant to use either one of them, any time."

But right now Feliz is still the Rangers' closer. The mission is to regain the reliability that he achieved last season.

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.