The last image of Neftali Feliz walking off the mound as the Rangers’ closer isn’t very pleasant.
The ninth inning of Game 6 of the World Series is probably still fresh in people’s minds, so there is no reason to discuss the specifics.
Outside the bottom half of that inning, Feliz had a very successful run in his two seasons as the team’s closer. He routinely blew hitters away with his terrific fastball to finish off games.
The 24-year-old’s stint in the rotation started off positively until an elbow injury ended his season in May. He will be coming off Tommy John Surgery when he returns in 2013.
The question is what role should he return to?
The Rangers’ rotation is at a crossroads going into next season, so that seems like the most obvious destination. However, if the team is thinking long term, perhaps it is best to return Feliz to the position he first thrived at.
This is in no way an indictment on Neftali’s ability to be a reliable starter in the big leagues. His 2012 campaign ended after just seven starts, which is a small sample to judge any pitcher by.
The main concern is that he won’t stay healthy as a starter.
Feliz suffered shoulder and elbow injuries on his throwing arm over the last two years after seeing his workload increase. A move back to closer can help keep him healthier and in a position to help the team succeed.
Although the rotation needs help, there shouldn’t be a shortage of arms next year. Texas will almost certainly add another starter this offseason through free agency or trade to go along with Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, and Colby Lewis.
Alexi Ogando has expressed a desire to pitch in the rotation. Top prospects Justin Grimm and Martin Perez also may find themselves on the major league roster.
There is a need in the bullpen.
Mike Adams and Koji Uehara are both free agents. Joe Nathan will soon be 38-years-old. Although he pitched effectively in 2012, he did show some fatigue down the stretch.
Feliz has proven value in the bullpen. He saved 72 games in two seasons. His numbers in the postseason were also very good: 7 saves in 8 opportunities, 23 strikeouts and a 1.93 ERA in 18 appearances. His issue was control, which is seen a lot in young pitchers.
It appears that summer is the earliest Neftali will return next year.
Nathan gives the Rangers the luxury of easing their young flamethrower back into a late inning role, if that’s the route they choose.
At the very least, this is one more scenario for management to think about. It’s going to be a very busy offseason in Texas.