Gil LeBreton

March 22, 2014

Scheppers gets the hug, Feliz gets the demotion

Tanner Scheppers earns a spot in the rotation, while Neftali Feliz loses his closer job.

In the quiet of the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse Saturday morning, the message was loud and clear.

Commitment will be rewarded.

For a team hungry to get back to a World Series — and win it — tough decisions often have to be made.

For Tanner Scheppers, the news Saturday came with a hug. Manager Ron Washington is said to frequently punctuate a poignant moment with a player with a hug.

“He did,” Scheppers reported. “And I was happy to go in for it.”

Scheppers, after working as a bullpen setup man for the first two years of his major league career, was informed Saturday that he had earned a spot in the Rangers’ starting rotation.

Neftali Feliz, meanwhile, learned that, for now, he has lost his closer job.

Some 19 months after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery, Feliz has been a disappointing puzzle to the team’s coaches and staff. His recovery appeared to be going well during winter ball in his native Dominican Republic, where his fastball reportedly was clocked in the high 90s.

But the club has seen only fuzzy hints of that Feliz at this spring training camp. His velocity is down. Disappointment is up.

General manager Jon Daniels isn’t buying one camp theory, that Feliz saw what he wanted to see on the Dominican League radar gun, pronounced himself ready to reassume his closer role, and then sat on his posterior for the remainder of the winter.

“I don’t think Neftali feels entitled,” Daniels said. “Guys come back from surgeries differently. Some guys take longer to get ready. It’s a little harder with Neffy because he’s not the most vocal, and you don’t get a ton of feedback from him all the time.

“I was hoping that it would kind of be a step-by-step return by this point. But we didn’t really see that. So that’s where our heads are — how do we get him ready?

“But we’ve also got to get the rest of the team ready. That’s why we made the decisions that we announced today.”

Scheppers sealed his promotion with a brow-raising, six-inning, five-hit, six-strikeout performance Friday afternoon.

“Spring training stats don’t mean anything really at the end of the day,” Daniels said. “In Tanner’s case, it was more the way he went about it. The work ethic, the preparation. He worked all winter.

“He put himself in this position. I think everyone was impressed with the fact that just has the look of a starter and the ease with which he goes about it.”

Washington’s terse postgame review of Feliz’s Friday outing, on the other hand, was a hint of the demotion to come.

“He still has to perform and make this team,” Washington said Saturday.

Joakim Soria will assume the closer role in the bullpen. But Daniels’ empathy for what Feliz is going through was evident.

Feliz, 25, remains a vital piece in the franchise’s championship plans. His $3 million salary for 2014 mandates as much.

But at this point, days before Opening Day, the Rangers aren’t likely to stash Feliz deep in the bullpen and hope that his 97 mph fastball suddenly returns. Soria is experienced at the role, but Feliz has closer stuff. Championship stuff.

In the few days before the season begins, Feliz likely will be given every chance to unleash whatever it is he showed in winter ball. If that isn’t enough time, the feeling here is that he could find himself at Triple A Round Rock to start the season.

At Round Rock, Feliz could assume the closer job and rebuild his confidence and his velocity. With the big club, for now, what good would he be as a sixth-inning reliever trying to rediscover his fastball?

It’s a tough decision. But as Daniels said, there’s a team to get ready.

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