Feldman works toward reaching next level

Feldman works toward reaching next level

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Turns out Scott Feldman is lined up to be the Rangers' No. 3 pitcher in their rotation.

The way the Rangers have it set up, he'll follow Rich Harden and C.J. Wilson. After Feldman comes Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis. That's the way pitching coach Mike Maddux has it lined up for the rest of the spring and leading into the season.

That doesn't change Feldman's importance in the overall picture and on Tuesday afternoon, he pitched five innings in a Minor League game against Class A High Desert. He used the time to work on his changeup, which could be an important pitch for him this season.

"That gives him another dimension to play with," Maddux said. "With his changeup, he can go to the next level."

Feldman reached a new level last season. It was his second season as a starter and he ended up winning 17 games and posting a 4.08 ERA in 34 games, including 31 starts, over 189 2/3 innings.

Remember he didn't make his first start until April 25 and also ended the season with a three-game losing streak. The rest of the time he was right there with Kevin Millwood as the Rangers' two most reliable and consistent pitchers.

There are those who wonder if Feldman can repeat that performance, a fair question considering two years ago he was a middle reliever who couldn't make the team.

"I just know I'm working hard and getting better all the time," Feldman said. "Hopefully that will translate into a better season."

There are reasons to hope Feldman can be better than last season.

Feldman became a starter two springs ago when then-pitching coach Mark Connor suggested he go from a sidearm delivery to three-quarters. The suggestion did wonders for Feldman, but Maddux pointed out he's still trying to perfect the process of throwing from that arm slot.

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Maddux said there were times when Feldman would "lose" that slot and have to fight to regain it. The goal this season, with the experience Feldman has gained from two seasons as a starter, is to keep that from happening so often.

"That's something he has worked hard on all offseason and this spring," Maddux said.

Then there is the expanded arsenal of pitches.

Feldman's strength is being able to move his fastball around in the zone, either as a sinker or a cut fastball. Last year he added a much more effective breaking ball. If this changeup comes around as he hopes, it's one more pitch to the arsenal.

The next step would be pitch selection and using his arsenal of pitches in the right sequence to set up hitters. That is also part of the process of learning to be a starting pitcher.

"Last year he did a fine job of blending his pitches," Maddux said. "This season I don't see why he won't get more refined in what he's doing."

He has two starts left in Spring Training to pull everything together. On Tuesday, working against Class A Minor Leaguers from the Mariners organization, he went five innings and threw 96 pitches on an afternoon when the rest of his teammates had the day off.

"There are a lot worse things you can be doing than playing in a Spring Training game," Feldman said. "You're still playing baseball, having fun and hanging with your friends. I know just because it's an off-day, I still have to stay on schedule. It's not a big deal. I treated it like another game. Just because they are Minor League players, they are still good hitters."

So he worked on the changeup as well as locating his breaking ball. He also threw the sinker and the cut fastball. He allowed one run on five hits and a walk. He struck out two.

"I got through my innings and everything felt good," said Feldman, who will start again on Sunday against the White Sox. After that, there will be a start against the Royals in Arlington on Friday, April 2. Then comes the regular season.

"I just want to make all my pitches better, not just the changeup," Feldman said. "I want to locate my breaking ball and my (cut fastball) and (sinker). I'm anxious for the season to start."

The Rangers are anxious to see if he can be better than last season, when he was actually pretty good.

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