Neftali Feliz won’t be feliz until he’s the last man on the mound…
The 25-year-old Dominican right-handed pitcher for the Texas Rangers is determined to get his old job back, as the team’s closer.
And he’s not thinking about anything but getting the ball with the final three outs on the line.
“I know I’m preparing for one job,” Feliz told ESPN on Monday through an interpreter. “I’m preparing to be the closer and that’s it.”
Feliz’s last time closing a game in Major League Baseball was Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. And that didn’t end on a positive note for the MLB All-Star.
The Rangers moved Feliz into the rotation shortly after the season, but it wasn’t because of one big blown save. The Rangers acquired Joe Nathan early that offseason and wanted to see if Feliz could start. But injuries dashed his hopes. He eventually needed Tommy John surgery.
He says he feels healthy as he enters spring training. And Nathan is now in Detroit, leaving the closer job wide open.
It was Feliz’s responsibility in 2010 and 2011, when he saved a combined 72 games. That included 40 in 2010, earning him AL Rookie of the Year honors.
Feliz went to the Dominican Republic this offseason to play in winter ball and continue to build up his arm strength. Prior to his first bullpen session for manager Ron Washington and former reliever Darren Oliver, who is helping the Rangers’ coaching staff as a consultant this season, Feliz said his velocity reached 97 or 98 mph in the Dominican.
“I felt very comfortable,” said Feliz. “I felt strong. I’ve done this in the past, and having the experience in the Dominican League gave me more confidence to pitch.”
Feliz isn’t the only person being considered for the position. Joakim Soria, who has closing experience as an All-Star with the Kansas City Royals, is also an option. Additionally, Tanner Scheppers could lad the role, if he doesn’t end up earning a rotation spot.
But Feliz appears to be the favorite heading into spring training and is in position to win the job if he can show that he’s found his form from a few years ago.