Neftali Feliz: Why Nefti Is Key to Texas Rangers' Success in 2012

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Neftali Feliz: Why Nefti Is Key to Texas Rangers' Success in 2012
Rick Yeatts/Getty Images

The Texas Rangers are off to one of the hottest starts in baseball.

They are 6-0 on the road and 11-2 overall. They haven't had a starting pitcher take a loss. They're batting around .300—as a team. They've beaten the feared Red Sox and Tigers. They've conquered whatever spell that Target Field had over them. They can hit the long ball or run the bases and put themselves in position to score on fly balls or singles.

This team looks like they're on track to be in position to win that championship that has been so close but eluded them the past two seasons.  

They aren't going to go 160-2. Obviously. It'd be nice to have a nice 10-game lead by the time June rolls around, but regardless, it won't be this great all year. It's tough to play in Texas in the summer. The American League is stacked with two of the National League's best players coming to teams that were already playoff contenders in the first place.

The West is tough. The Mariners have a solid little team and a guy named Felix Hernandez. The Athletics aren't far behind them and have at least been in every game thus far this year. Bartolo Colon may be a wild card and we'll never see 38 strikes in a row again. Anyone would be foolish to believe that the Angels will be this terrible all season. They're bad, but they'll pick it up. I think.  

One of the major keys to the Rangers' success this season has been and will continue to be Neftali Feliz. Nefti was the biggest question mark going into spring training, and coming out of it. So far he has been better than expected with a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings pitched.

Feliz is in a sensitive situation. He needs to succeed or he'll be a mess mentally. He was a major part of the biggest collapse in sports history.  He can't go back to the bullpen right now. It's crowded as it is and the front office has put their faith in him as a starter.

Nefti's keys to a successful season will be his use of the off-speed pitch and his work ethic. Last year the righty threw nearly 80 percent fastballs. Batters were sitting on that pitch and hitting it—far. The more he can utilize his changeup, the more he can use his power to his advantage.

Feliz has also been in the bullpen for a couple of years and his durability has been questioned at times. He started out his minor league career as a starter and he knows what it takes to be ready for a full season. He just has to do it now, and the Maddux brothers will help keep him in line physically.  

Feliz is the Rangers' power starter that can keep teams off-balanced. They need him to be successful this season to truly have a chance to continue to be considered the AL's best. If he falters, all isn't lost. The staff is good enough to make the playoffs with Scott Feldman or Robbie Ross. But if Feliz is the pitcher he's shown to be early, then it'll be tough for anyone to win a series against the Rangers.

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