The word used this week by two of the most important members of the Texas Rangers’ 2014 pitching staff to describe the health of their right arms gave reason for optimism.
Talk, however, is cheap. No matter how “perfect” Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando said they feel when throwing off a mound fewer than three weeks from Rangers pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training, they have to prove that they are healthy and then stay that way.
The Rangers’ success doesn’t entirely rest on the health of Feliz, who is intent on replacing Joe Nathan as closer, and Ogando, a key member of the projected rotation a year after three stints on the disabled list.
But it certainly can’t hurt if they can pitch as well as they have in the past. And that’s their plan
“My arm is perfect. When I threw in winter ball, my command was perfect,” Feliz said Tuesday after a workout at the Rangers’ Dominican academy. “I’ve tried to work hard to be ready to do my job as closer and go to the playoffs this year.”
Getting Feliz into position to compete to be the club’s closer has been one of the Rangers’ top priorities this off-season. They pulled Mike Anderson away from his scouting duties in the Dominican to work with Feliz on some mechanical tweaks and tightening up his repertoire as he pitched for Toros del Este in the Dominican Winter League.
Feliz pitched well in 10 appearances over 9 2/3 innings, posting a 2.79 ERA and walking only two. He struck out 11. He said his velocity was at its best late in this stint.
After working in the low 90s late last season in his first major league appearance since having Tommy John surgery Aug. 1, 2012, Feliz was clocked at 98 mph while pitching on the second day of back-to-back outings.
Fellow right-handers Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers will also get consideration to be the closer this season, but Feliz expects to be the go-to guy in the ninth inning.
“Oh, 100 percent,” said Feliz, who saved 72 games in 2010 and 2011 before working as a starter in 2012 before he was injured. “I’ve tried to be focused on doing the job I’ve done before. I know how to do it.”
Ogando said he isn’t feeling any pressure to stay healthy, even though left-hander Derek Holland (left knee) is out until at least the All-Star break and another lefty, Matt Harrison, underwent three operations in 2013.
“I’m sorry about Derek,” Ogando said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Ogando knows how to do his job, but he hasn’t made it through a full season as a starter without wearing out or being felled by injury. He went 7-4 with a 3.11 ERA in 2013, but found the DL three times with biceps and shoulder issues during his return season to the rotation.
So, his off-season focus was on strengthening his shoulder. The tall, lean Ogando said that he weighs 205 pounds and has had no issues during his winter workouts.
He and Feliz said they are ready to make up for lost time in 2014.
“I’m happy with being in the rotation,” said Ogando, who is 19-12 with a 3.40 ERA in 48 career starts. “Right now, I’m working hard every day. My shoulder feels perfect. I’ve got no problems. I don’t want to go back like last year.”