The first stop Neftali Feliz made Friday after entering the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse for the first time this season was the manager’s office, as he darn well should have.
Once there, Ron Washington told the former All-Star closer that it was up to him to prove that he should stay in the major leagues after three months stuck at Triple A Round Rock.
“I tried to pump him up, get him excited about being in the big leagues,” Washington said.
Therein lies the problem with Feliz, whose desire continues to be a question mark even though he should have no shortage of motivation to pitch so well as to never go back to the minor leagues.
The hope is that his stint in Round Rock will make him realize how good he once had it and how what he thought was a satisfactory level of work and commitment isn’t nearly good enough.
Oh, he said the right things, as he has done in the past. It can’t be lip-service this time.
As the Rangers stress development the rest of the season and a need to know what they have, they will be watching Feliz closely.
“That’s something Neffy can correct,” Washington said. “It’s if Neffy wants to get it in his mind that’s what he wants to do.”
Feliz joined the Rangers just in time to partake in their sixth straight loss and ninth straight on the road, this time 6-5 to the New York Mets at Citi Field as Yu Darvish couldn’t stop the plunge through the standings.
Shin-Soo Choo started the game with a home run off Jonathan Niese, who was struck by an Alex Rios liner two batters later and had to leave the game. Darvish, though, surrendered three first-inning runs and four overall in just five pitch-heavy innings a day after being scratched because of bad weather.
“He was a little erratic with his command,” Washington said of Darvish, who was lifted at 94 pitches for pinch-hitter Carlos Pena in the sixth. “But he kept us in the ballgame and gave us a chance.”
Feliz entered for the sixth for his 2014 debut, and promptly walked the first two batters before retiring the next six for a tidy-looking two scoreless innings. He topped out at 94 mph on the stadium radar gun.
His work, though, allowed the Rangers to pull even with an unearned run in a messy defensive seventh for the Mets.
But the Mets broke the 4-4 tie in the eighth against Aaron Poreda (2-1) and Jason Frasor, who allowed the go-ahead two-run double to Travis d’Arnaud.
Frasor, who blew a lead Wednesday at Baltimore, said he threw one too many fastballs to the Mets’ young catcher.
“I’m not making quality pitches,” Frasor said. “I just wasn’t able to put them away.”
Feliz could pitch at any point before the ninth inning. If he had any doubts about that, at least he now knows what it is.
“Neffy is not coming here to be the closer to unseat Joakim Soria,” Washington said. “Let’s get that clear. As long as Joakim Soria is available he’s closing ballgames, unequivocally.”
Feliz had impressive numbers of late at Round Rock, where he was serving as the closer. Over his final eight outings, he worked nine scoreless innings, with opponents batting .071 (2 for 28) with one walk and nine strikeouts.
But it wasn’t performance alone that brought Feliz to back to the majors. The Rangers needed an arm after wearing out their bullpen during a four-game sweep at Baltimore, and Feliz swapped spots with Ben Rowen after the submariner worked in 4 of 5 games overall.
Feliz will work at anytime before the ninth inning, Washington said, and he might pitch multiple innings.
“I’m ready wherever they need me,” Feliz said.
He admitted that he wasn’t ready in spring training to pitch effectively. The Rangers noted general fatigue and an inability for him to recover after outings, something that became evident on the radar gun.
Feliz also had some mechanical issues that needed to be ironed out. He was unable to repeat his delivery from one outing the next, which led to a lack of command and some very hittable pitches.
So, under the watchful eye of Round Rock pitching coach Brad Holman, Feliz focused on his delivery and getting his pitches down during a Triple A stint that lasted longer than most thought it would.
“I kept working every day,” Feliz said. “I didn’t try to be frustrated. That’s not my job.”
He also said he’s happy to be back. The Rangers will be happy if Feliz shows enough commitment and pitches well enough to stay. Friday might have been the first step.
“I thought Neffy came in and did a great job,” Washington said. “He got after it from the first batter, and he stayed after it until we took him off the mound. That was a good thing.”