Resurgent Feldman is Texas Rangers' insurance policy

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The numbers posted by the Texas Rangers' rotation last year were among the best in club history by a starting group.

Each starter had at least 13 victories, a team first. The starters' 3.65 ERA was the best since 1983. Their 798 strikeouts were a club record.

But the most telling number was 157.

The five members of the Rangers' rotation on Opening Day last year never found themselves on the disabled list, and those five made 157 starts in the 162-game campaign.

Scott Feldman got two of the five spot starts, both late in the season as Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison had their turns skipped for some extra rest down the stretch.

Manager Ron Washington isn't counting on another injury-free year from the rotation, and Neftali Feliz could be a candidate to be skipped for rest as he transitions from closer to starter.

Feldman, it appears, will get the first chance as a fill-in. Though he's being stretched out as a starter this spring, and badly wants to be a starter again, he's ticketed as the Rangers' long man in the bullpen this year.

It's not perfect, but it'll have to do for a former Opening Day starter who is back at full strength and has rediscovered the sinking fastball that made him a 17-game winner in 2009.

"I didn't think that I'd be in this position a couple years ago, but things happen," Feldman said Saturday after throwing three scoreless innings against the Chicago White at Camelback Ranch.

"I just go out there and do what I can control. When I'm in there, I concentrate on making the next pitch. Obviously, certain roles are more fun than others."

Bullpen work is nothing new for Feldman, whose first 73 games in the majors were as a reliever. But then he got the starting bug in 2008, when he logged 25 starts, and blossomed into the club's Pitcher of the Year in 2009 after going 17-8.

He signed a multiyear extension just before the 2010 season and started on Opening Day. But he was out of the rotation by August and on the disabled list by the end of the month with a balky right knee that required microfracture surgery two days after the World Series.

Those two starts last year, both against Tampa Bay, did little to convince club brass that Feldman should be a starter this season. But the Rangers value what he can do for them, either as a starter or a reliever.

"He can go out there and throw five innings for you, and it helps tremendously," Washington said. "That's what Feldman gives us. He gives us quality depth, not just depth.

"We keep our fingers crossed and hope the guys we put out there can stay healthy. You can't look for that every year. That's why we have depth."

That's Feldman, who is in the final year of the extension he signed in 2010. He's healthy now, which is the best news, and his sinker and cut fastball have produced a steady diet of ground balls so far this spring.

He's looking like he did in 2009, but he's not sure what his 2012 season will look like.

"My buddies always ask me the same thing," Feldman said. "There are a lot of people who would like to be a human insurance policy for the Rangers. There's no way of telling what's going to happen."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760


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