Neftali Feliz has not put to bed the demons from Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, where his Texas Rangers were one strike away from a crown twice. And he won't get the chance to officially do so as a closer, since he is now a full-time member of the starting rotation.
However, if Tuesday's start against the Seattle Mariners was any indication, the Rangers would like for him to banish those demons as a starter for the rest of his career.
Feliz threw seven scoreless innings, striking out four and taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning before Justin Smoak broke through with a single. He only allowed four hits to the Mariners, walking two and throwing 108 pitches before manager Ron Washington turned it over to Mike Adams and Joe Nathan to preserve the 1-0 victory.
Pretty good for a first career start.
He mixed his changeup and curveball well against the Mariners hitters, showing that he has been busy during the offseason and making sure his secondary pitches are up to snuff. Throw in an effortless fastball at 93-95 MPH (one that can go as high as 98 MPH) and hitters should be off balance all season.
Factor in Derek Holland's quality start, Matt Harrison's six shutout innings and the phenom that is Yu Darvish during the first turn of the rotation, and this pitching staff looks set for years to come.
I can't say enough for the job GM Jon Daniels has done in stockpiling young pitchers to take this team to the next level. By the same accord, pitching coach Mike Maddux and Washington deserve credit for letting these young guys loose, and doing so amidst expectations to return to the World Series for a third time.
Veterans Colby Lewis and Scott Feldman might be headed out after this season. Both could probably get more money elsewhere, although I'm not sure losing Lewis, the most decorated pitcher in Rangers postseason history, is the smartest of ideas.
Worst case scenario, you lose Lewis and Feldman and have to decide between Robbie Ross, Martin Perez, Neil Ramirez or maybe even an outside candidate like Barret Loux. Yes there's a certain drop-off by using a young guy in the rotation, but if guys named Holland, Feliz and Darvish can't anchor the first four slots then you're in trouble as it is.
Like Alexi Ogando last year, Feliz and even Darvish will have to adjust after teams have seen them on tape and begin to understand the way they pitch. But on pure ability alone, it should be fun to watch this rotation grow and develop.