In hindsight, it was a silly to ask if Neftali Feliz would be able to close out wins on back-to-back days for a club that hasn’t won on consecutive days since June 27-28.
It is within the realm of possibility. Traded closer Joakim Soria had a chance to save games Monday and Tuesday, but flopped in his final appearance for the Texas Rangers before he was shipped to Detroit on Wednesday.
Manager Ron Washington assessed it thusly.
“I don’t know,” he said.
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That is the most common answer on questions these days about Feliz, the former flame-throwing All-Star closer who had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and is still seeking the velocity that allowed him to save 72 games in 2010 and 2011.
He’s getting closer, he claims, though he admits there are days when he doesn’t feel so good. He remains perpetually dogged by questions about his work ethic and desire.
“I’m going to give him the ball for him to do what he’s got to do with it,” Washington said. “This is, what, Neffy’s fifth year? I’m not going to motivate Neffy. That should motivate him enough.”
Feliz wasn’t needed Thursday. Colby Lewis surrendered three runs in the middle innings after a fast start, and former Rangers pitcher Brandon McCarthy allowed only one run in six innings as the Yankees closed the four-game series with their third straight win, 4-2.
Lewis retired the first eight and took a no-hitter and a 1-0 lead into the fourth, which opened with a Brett Gardner blooper than landed fair just inside the left-field line. Chase Headley tied it with a two-out single, and the Yankees never trailed again after scoring two more in the fifth in an inning in which Lewis walked three.
“You definitely never want to walk three guys in one inning, but only one of those walks scored,” said Lewis, who pitched 6 1/3 innings. “I feel like I came out of my mechanics a little bit.”
J.P. Arencibia homered to start the seventh, his third homer since his first game back in the majors July 18, but the Yankees scored once in the eighth against Ryan Feierabend, and four relievers retired the final nine Rangers batters.
After winning the series opener Monday, the Rangers lost the last three games by a combined four runs. Their record in July fell to 3-17.
“Everyone’s trying to do the best they can, and, obviously, it’s not working,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “We’re trying to score runs any way we can.”
Many of the players in the lineup are getting looks for next season, and so is Feliz. No Soria has opened the door for Feliz to assume the role many thought he would have at the beginning of the season, before his tired arm and poor mechanics led to an extended stay in Triple A to get right.
He did his best work as the closer in Round Rock, just ahead of his return to the majors. He showed more velocity, routinely popping 96 mph, and didn’t allow a run in his final eight appearances.
That velocity hasn’t consistently been with him since he returned July 4. He has popped 95 and 96 a few times, but is averaging 92.2 mph on his fastball this season.
He averaged 96.3 in 2010 and 2011.
“I’m fully aware of that situation,” Feliz said. “But I have to be consistent with my preparation, and my approach doesn’t have be altered because of it. I try to throw in the lower part of the zone and as fast as I can. I think the velocity is getting there little by little.”
Until it does, though, he has to pitch with his slider and changeup and not make mistakes up in the zone. That mid- to upper-90s velocity of four and five years ago masked a lot of mistakes.
The Rangers aren’t sure how this experiment will work out. After trading Soria, who had a friendly club option and could have been the closer next year, the Rangers are hoping Feliz can seize the opportunity.
But, like many questions about Feliz these days, the Rangers just don’t know the answer. He thinks he does.
“If they give you any opportunity in the bullpen, I’ll do my best, but especially being a closer,” Feliz said. “If there’s an opportunity, I’d like to become the closer again. I’ll try to take advantage of the opportunity and do the best I can.”