The Texas Rangers’ hopes of avoiding a three-game sweep Sunday were put in the hands of Neftali Feliz, who is attempting to seize the closer’s job in 2015 by finishing strong in 2014.
His first fastball came in at 90 mph. His second at 89. His third registered at 88. His fifth pitch, another fastball, was 89 again.
Meanwhile, the MLB GameCast apparently couldn’t believe how sharply Feliz’s velocity has dropped. It said that three of those first four fastballs were changeups.
The one David Murphy dumped into the right-field seats to tie the game? It, too, was called a changeup at 90 mph.
The technological glitch, not to mention Murphy’s two-run homer, underscores the glitch the Rangers have at closer and the glitch Feliz continues to have in his right arm two years removed from Tommy John surgery.
He can’t do the job effectively if he can’t throw the ball harder. It’s that simple. His mistakes can no longer hide behind upper-90s heaters, and he isn’t a good enough pitcher to regularly get outs without power.
Time could very well cure what ails him, but that possibility has never seemed more remote than after seeing the lack of juice in his arm while blowing a save in the Rangers’ eventual 4-3 loss to Cleveland in 12 innings.
“We’re going to find out,” said manager Ron Washington, who vowed to stick with Feliz in the ninth inning. “It’s important that I get him back out there so he can continue to feel good about himself.
“When the opportunity presents itself again, I’m going to put him back out there and give him a chance to get back out there and get it done.”
Michael Brantley won the game for the Indians when he started the 12th with a homer off rookie right-hander Phil Klein. The walk-off win completed a three-game sweep of the Rangers, who are scheduled to open a three-game series Monday at Chicago.
The loss spoiled seven more solid innings from Yu Darvish, who allowed one run on four hits and struck out eight. The Rangers’ offense put him in position for a win with a run in the first and two more in the second without the benefit of a base hit.
The Rangers used an Elvis Andrus double and a soft single by Alex Rios to take a 1-0 lead in the first, their first lead of the series.
They padded their lead to 3-0 an inning later after Trevor Bauer hit J.P. Arencibia and walked Leonys Martin and Chris Gimenez to open the frame. Rougned Odor and Shin-Soo Choo followed with sacrifice flies as the Rangers scored multiple runs in an inning without a hit for the first time in two seasons.
Two second-inning doubles by the Indians, the second by Murphy, made it 3-1, but Darvish followed by allowing only a walk in the third and fifth and a two-out single in the sixth.
His eighth strikeout, and third of Nick Swisher, stranded Carlos Santana at second base to end the sixth.
Darvish was lifted before the eighth at 101 pitches in favor of Neal Cotts, who breezed through his inning.
“He gave us what we needed,” Washington said of Darvish. “We just didn’t shut the game down.”
Feliz retired Lonnie Chisenhall to start the ninth but walked pinch hitter Chris Dickerson. Murphy hit the next pitch into the seats beyond the wall in right-center field.
Washington pointed to the walk to Dickerson, who was batting for the first time in the series, as Feliz’s biggest mistake. If he retires Dickerson, a Murphy homer still leaves the Indians a run short.
“It’s about executing pitches,” Washington said.
Feliz agreed, and said he isn’t concerned about the lack of velocity. He hasn’t been lighting up the radar gun as he once did, but he had been at 93 and 94 mph in his three successful save chances.
The pitch Murphy hit, Feliz said, was a fastball that was supposed to be on the outside corner but instead found the middle of the plate. Once upon a time in 2010 and 2011, when he could touch 100 mph, Feliz might have gotten away with a fastball down the middle.
That won’t happen with the velocity he has now, so he has to command his pitches. That has been his focus as he waits for the high-octane fastball to return.
“I’m trying to get better,” Feliz said. “I’m not focused on trying to throw harder. I’m focused on putting balls where I’m supposed to put them and focus on hitting my spots.”
Maybe the velocity will be there at the end of the season. Maybe he will be the Rangers’ closer next season.
Based on Sunday, though, that’s never been more in doubt.