Rangers plan to ease Feliz into career

Rangers plan to ease Feliz into career

OAKLAND -- Neftali Feliz begins his Rangers career as a middle reliever who will likely be asked to pitch multiple innings. He could also pitch as late as the seventh inning.

"Right off the bat we'll try and use him in less-pressure situations," manager Ron Washington said. "He is here to be used. Whatever situation we feel he can get us out of, we're going to use him."

Feliz, the starting pitcher for the World team in last month's Futures Game, was called up Sunday night just before the start of the Rangers' 4-2 victory over the Mariners. He was not used in the game and was still waiting to make his Major League debut going into Monday's game with the Athletics.

"This is a dream come true for me," Feliz said before Monday's game. "I'm grateful to God and the organization for the opportunity. Hopefully, by being here, I'll help us win."

Feliz, who was rated the Rangers' No. 1 prospect in the offseason by Baseball America, joins a bullpen that has left-hander C.J. Wilson and right-handers Frank Francisco and Darren O'Day for the eighth and ninth innings. Right-hander Jason Jennings and left-hander Eddie Guardado have been the sixth- and seventh-inning guys, and Doug Mathis, at this moment, is the long reliever. Feliz basically replaces Jason Grilli, who was working the sixth and seventh before going on the disabled list with inflammation in his right elbow.

"The only expectations I have for him is he come in and throw strikes," Washington said. "This kid does bring expectations because of what he has on his right shoulder, but I just want him to get outs."

Feliz, 21, was 3-5 with a 3.86 ERA in 13 starts at Triple-A Oklahoma City before being moved to the bullpen. As a reliever, he made 12 appearances and allowed four runs in 16 2/3 innings while allowing 10 hits, three walks and 20 strikeouts. Feliz is the hardest thrower in the Rangers' system with a triple-digit fastball. But he has also been working on his breaking ball and changeup.

"I feel more confident throwing them," Feliz said. "I feel they've improved a lot. I just need to stay confident in myself and my stuff and keep the ball down."

The Rangers feel he has enough stuff right now to get by as a reliever. They have talked about him being used as a starting pitcher again in winter ball this offseason to work on his curve and changeup and start building up his arm strength again. But right now, he is in the bullpen.

"I don't feel much difference," Feliz said. "In Spring Training I came into games in relief. I feel OK down there. The only difference is the amount of innings I throw, but I don't feel much of a difference. Right now I don't have a preference. Whatever they want me to do, I will do the best I can."

Feliz, who turned 21 on May 2, will be the 10th young pitcher to make his Major League debut for the Rangers. The nine younger ones were David Clyde (18), Wilson Alvarez (19), Edwin Correa (19), Tommy Boggs (20), Hector Fajardo (20), Don Stanhouse (21), Len Barker (21), Fabio Castro (21) and Rick Waits.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.