Texas Rangers Bullpen Issues Continue: Why Is Closer Neftali Feliz Struggling?

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Texas Rangers Bullpen Issues Continue: Why Is Closer Neftali Feliz Struggling?
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The most dominant closer in the Major Leagues last year isn't running on all cylinders this season. With such a tight race in the West, it's a problem the Texas Rangers can ill afford.

Neftali Feliz has blown three saves so far this year, including one Friday night against the Kansas City Royals

With Texas up 7-6 in the bottom of the ninth, Feliz gave up a solo home run to Alex Gordon. That shot allowed the Royals to tie, and eventually win, the game in extra innings 12-7.

And here's the kicker; all three blown saves have come against Kansas City. But at this rate, these blown saves are likely to continue...and it won't be just KC.

Since coming off the DL, Feliz has teetered on the brink of ho-hum. Rarely this season has he been in a game that he didn't allow one or two base runners to get into scoring position.

In other words, he's living on the edge—and not in a good way.

Feliz, the flamethrower who dominated opposing batters last season, the one who easily earned American League Rookie of the Year honors, doesn't look himself. 

He's fortunate it's only three blown saves.

The truth is Feliz is still young and inexperienced. Though his talent level is beyond question, he still has moments that drive managers out of their mind. 

Why is Feliz blowing saves this season?

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"It's just that he's not as sharp as he was last year," said TXA 21 commentator and former Texas Ranger Mark McLemore following the game. "Teams are making adjustments to him. Feliz needs to make adjustments as well."

Adjustments may be an understatement.

During his first blown save last week against the Royals, Feliz was completely dependent on his off-speed pitch before surrendering the lead; never establishing his fastball. The next night, Feliz went back out on the mound and, again, failed to shut KC down. This time, he threw nearly all fastballs.

Ask anyone in the Major Leagues and they'll tell you this one, immutable truth: regardless of how good a pitcher is, if he throws the same pitch over and over, someone will make him pay. And they did.

Feliz, like any pitcher, is at his best when he locates and establishes his fastball. He can then keep hitters off-balance with his slider and curveball. With this formula, he's nearly un-hittable because his 100mph fastball appears more like it's 130mph.

When he's throwing only one pitch, he's meat. That suggests one thing: Feliz has lost his confidence.

In a recent online article, ESPN Dallas/Fort Worth also suggested Feliz needs to mix his pitches.

There is talk that Neftali isn't 100 percent following his stint on the disabled list. That too is a possibility. Only Feliz knows for sure.

But according to McLemore, Feliz's problems could be due to any number of things (mechanical, mental or maturity)— whatever the issue, fans shouldn't be ready to hit the panic button.

"He's a young pitcher and he's going to make mistakes. Give him time to grow," McLemore said.

However, the Texas Rangers cannot afford many more mistakes if they're to make another run at the AL West title. The Texas bullpen is the weak link so far this season and it desperately needs a strong anchor to give the team a chance to win games.

Let's hope Feliz regains his confidence and starts running on all cylinders soon. Otherwise, the Rangers will be headed in the wrong direction. 

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