If Neftali Feliz wasn’t the happiest player in the Detroit Tigers’ clubhouse Friday, he was at least in the top three.
The smile on his face and his willingness to speak with media was a vast departure from the past few seasons with the Texas Rangers, who designated him for assignment July 3 amid a failed trial as closer and the long-running belief that he wasn’t committed enough to his day job.
Quickly swooped up by Detroit, Feliz hasn’t pitched particularly well, but his fastball velocity has returned to the upper 90s and as has the confidence in his right-arm more than three years after Tommy John surgery.
He will forever be linked to the best and worst moments in Rangers history. The best was striking out Alex Rodriguez in 2010 to send the Rangers to the World Series. The worst was blowing a save in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, needing only one strike to clinch the title.
But six weeks after his departure from the Rangers, Feliz said that he was in need of a fresh start.
“At some point, yeah, I needed a fresh start,” said Feliz, who debuted with multiple 100-mph fastballs in 2009 at Oakland. “I love everybody, the players and the fans. But for my career I needed to go to a new team.”
Feliz’s fastball since joining the Tigers has average 95.1 mph, more than a mph faster than in his time with the Rangers. He flashed 98 mph with the Rangers in May during a save at Tampa, but he shows it regularly with the Tigers.
The elbow injury in 2012 derailed his career, and he blamed the decision to turn him into a starter for his injury. But also conceded that he might have been injured had he remained in the bullpen.
“But it isn’t bad,” he said. “I feel 100 percent now, and I’ll try to keep working and try to be in shape and be ready for next year.”