SEATTLE -- On a cold night in the Pacific Northwest, the Rangers got one last look at two rookie pitchers that represent a huge part of their future. Both Tommy Hunter and Neftali Feliz likely made their final appearances of the 2009 season for the Rangers in a 2-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on Saturday night. Hunter, pitching beneath a spectacular Harvest Moon -- and having trouble gripping the baseball in the chill -- was unable to reverse a late-season slide that he believes was caused by tipping his pitches.
He only allowed two runs, but gave up nine hits and managed to last just 4 1/3 innings. He finishes the season at 9-6 with a 4.10 ERA, including a 1-3 record with an 8.82 ERA in his last four starts. "The season was good but it should have ended better," Hunter said after the Rangers lost for the 14th time in 22 games. "There are some things they caught on to at the end of the year that I have to fix. I was just tipping some pitches. "That stinks, especially when it jumps your ERA almost two full points." Hunter and other Rangers pitchers dodged bigger trouble on Saturday night as the Mariners were just 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position. But Hunter showed enough in his 19 starts to make him a serious candidate for the Rangers rotation. He's able to throw four pitches for strikes and the team has been impressed by his competitiveness. "I thought he showed he can battle," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I saw him work his way into trouble and be able to pitch his way out of trouble. He's got to continue on that path and continue growing as a pitcher. We have to make sure he doesn't take anything for granted because the next step for him is not going to be easy. It's going to be a tough challenge for him to continue growing." Ken Griffey Jr. gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead with a home run to lead off the fourth inning. It was Griffey's 34th in his career against the Rangers. That ties him with George Brett for seventh-most by an opponent against the Rangers. In the fifth, Josh Wilson led off with a double and scored on singles by Ichiro Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez. Hunter was pitching despite having an upper respiratory infection earlier this week and was pulled in the fifth. It's the second consecutive start he has failed to go at least five innings. He went 2 1/3 in his last outing on Monday against the Angels and those are the two shortest of his 19 starts this season. "My expectations are higher than what others have for me," Hunter said. "It was a fun season, and I had a great time. I put in my shot for next year. But it needs to get better and I know I can do better." With the Rangers down 2-0, Feliz made what Washington said is likely his last appearance of the season, when he pitched a scoreless sixth. He walked Mike Carp to lead off the inning and, after Michael Saunders grounded out, hit Josh Wilson with a pitch. But Feliz showed something when he threw a 96-mph fastball past Ichiro for a strikeout and then retired Gutierrez on a roller past the mound. Washington decided against sending him out for the seventh and probably won't use him on Sunday. So the final line for Feliz will be 1-0 with a 1.74 ERA and two saves. In 31 innings, he gave up 13 hits, walked eight and struck out 39. "He left a big impression," Washington said. "He obviously has an electric fastball and showed command of his secondary stuff. He's been a big piece of our bullpen. He left a good impression." The Rangers knew Feliz could throw hard. His curve and changeup were suspect in Spring Training but showed tremendous improvement over the course of the season. That's why the Rangers will look at him in the rotation next spring. "This has been a great season," Feliz said. "I'm just thankful the organization gave me the opportunity. I just need to keep working hard but I have confidence in all of my pitches now. I just want to keep working on my breaking ball." The Rangers almost got Feliz his second victory. Mariners left-hander Ryan Rowland Smith held Texas scoreless through six innings. The Rangers broke through in the seventh when Chris Davis doubled and, after Andruw Jones walked, Elvis Andrus doubled down the right field line. Jones went to third on the play, but the Rangers couldn't get the tying run home. Rowland-Smith struck out Taylor Teagarden and got Julio Borbon on a pop to short center. Right-hander Sean Kelly replaced Rowland-Smith and, after walking Ian Kinsler, he ended the threat by getting Michael Young on a fly to deep right-center. The Rangers finished the night 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.