Texas Rangers: Bullpen a Cause for Serious Concern Heading to Philadelphia

Todd DavisContributor IMay 20, 2011

ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 07:  Pitcher Neftali Feliz #30 of the Texas Rangers throws against the New York Yankees at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on May 7, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

For the first time this season, closer Neftali Feliz blew a save opportunity against the Royals Wednesday night. Then, he went and did it again Thursday night.

For the bullpen, it adds up to eight blown saves. 

For the fans, it's annoying. 

Quite frankly, the Texas Rangers should count themselves fortunate to still be where they are in the standings. Solid starting pitching, error-free defense and timely hitting (and walks) have kept them in close games over the past two weeks.

But consider this: Instead of being 4-0 on this road trip, the Rangers are now 2-2. And what looked like a possible breakout in Arlington last week, now looks like a serious internal glitch. The Rangers have now lost nine games this year in their opponent's final at-bat

Going back to Thursday night, starting pitcher Derek Holland (3-1, 4.91 ERA) tossed his best performance of the season against the Kansas City Royals.

Holland pitched shutout ball until the 9th inning when manager Ron Washington pulled him following a single to Eric Hosmer. Washington called for Feliz to preserve a 1-0 lead, thanks to a Chris Davis solo home run in the second inning.

After a single to "smiling" Jeff Francoeur, Feliz settled down and went to his fastball, which touched on 101 miles per hour. With runners on first and second, Feliz got the next two batters out to face Mike Aviles. 

In what seemed like a 40 pitch at-bat, it was Feliz who caved first with a wild pitch that went past Yorvit Torrealba—allowing the runners to advance to second and third.

Then, on yet another 3-2 fastball, Aviles hit a single up the middle that Elvis Andrus was able to snag behind second to keep the winning run at third, but he had no play at the plate. Hosmer easily scored to tie the game.

Holland, who had been nervously watching from the dugout, slammed his hand in obvious frustration against the fence. 

The game went to extra innings.

In the bottom of the 10th, Kansas City strung together three singles off two different Texas relievers (Darren Oliver, Cody Eppley) for the walk-off win. Kansas City 2, Texas Rangers 1.

Wednesday night, the Rangers were a little more fortunate. Following Feliz's blown save in that game, the Rangers were able to regain the lead, this time handing the ball over to Mark Lowe, for his first save since 2009.

But the bullpen's troubles are not just about Feliz.

Last week, the usually reliable Darren Oliver (1-5, 2.95 ERA) gave up the winning run to the Los Angeles Angels Saturday night.

To that point, the Rangers bullpen was a combined 3-9 (win/loss).

It was Oliver's third outing in which he gave up the lead. Washington backed his pitcher saying the blame shouldn't be pinned on him.

Fox Sports Southwest commentator and former Rangers/Kansas City pitcher, Steve Busby, said on-air after the game Wednesday that injuries were but one part of why the bullpen was failing. But he also hinted that Feliz didn't resemble the same pitcher we saw last year.

"I'm not suggesting he's hurt," Busby said following the Ranger's broadcast. However, he alluded to the idea that Feliz wasn't establishing his fastball. "I don't like what I see from Neffi right now."

"(Feliz) is using his breaking pitch as his primary pitch instead of his fastball."

Before these two blown saves, Feliz had converted 19 consecutive saves dating back to last year. (yahoo sports notes)

Other injuries to the Rangers bullpen include pitcher Darren O'Day (hip), Tobin Mason (elbow), Tommy Hunter (groin) and Scott Feldman (knee).

Whether it's injuries, or whether it's something else only Ron Washington knows, the truth is this: starting pitching has been saving the day—and until the bullpen finds a miracle cure for what ails them, we may be seeing these types of game for weeks to come.

Notes: RHP Mark Lowe picked up the save Wednesday in the Rangers' 11-inning, 5-4 win over Kansas City. It was Lowe's first save since Sept. 22, 2009.

Feliz picked off two base-runners at first base yesterday, back-to-back. Derek Holland picked off a base-runner today.

Rangers now head to Philadelphia to take on the Phillies for a three-game weekend inter-league series. C.J. Wilson (4-2, 3.38 ERA) will start for Texas, while Roy Halladay (5-3, 2.21 ERA) pitches for Philly.