Neftali Feliz: Starter or reliever?

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux isn't sure if any young pitcher will top Neftali Feliz's debut in the major leagues.

"We saw lightning in a bottle," Maddux said. "Strike out the first six guys you face? That will get your attention real quick. What did we learn? That it wasn't an accident. He continued to have a lot of success at the major league level."

The question now for Maddux, general manager Jon Daniels, manager Ron Washington and the staff is whether that lightning flash should occur at the end of the game or the beginning. Maddux and Washington both cautioned that they don't have to decide right now if Feliz is a late-inning reliever or a starter.

"It's not a debate," Maddux said. "We're going to go out there and we'll stretch him out, and there's going to be a time during spring training where we all get our heads together and say, 'Which way do we go right now? What's the makeup of this staff?' Injuries happen. Right now, we've got a lot of starters. Are we going to have a lot of starters in three weeks, four weeks? We'll go from there."

Feliz is, as Washington called him, a "special talent." And the Rangers want to be sure they look out for Feliz's best interests while taking care of what the club needs. Maddux believes both go hand in hand right now, since Feliz can be stretched out as a starter and transition to the bullpen, if needed.

If Feliz starts in the bullpen, it doesn't mean he'll stay there for the duration, either. Scott Feldman began last season in the pen and was a 17-game winner. Derek Holland made his transition to the majors shuttling back and forth between starter and reliever.

"By the middle of spring, we'll make a decision if he starts or is in the bullpen," Washington said. "We feel like his future is starting. If he stays healthy, he's going to learn his craft. There's no telling how good he can be."

Feliz said the only adjustment he's had to make this offseason to begin the process of stretching out again as a starter was to work more from the windup, because as a reliever he was constantly in the stretch.

Maddux was asked Saturday if he'd rather have a frontline starter or a top closer.

"There are more closers than aces, so probably an ace," Maddux said. "But it depends on what the staff looks like."

Washington didn't hesitate when he said closer.

"There's no substitute for a guy who can shut a game down," Washington said.

The Rangers have the luxury of watching the 21-year-old Feliz develop into either one. He has three pitches in his repertoire and is refining them. Feliz knows he must be able to do more than simply blow 100 mph fastballs by hitters. So he's working on changing speeds with his changeup and curve.

"He'll just change speeds at a higher velocity," Maddux said.

Washington said Feliz's secondary stuff "was sort of out of whack" at the end of the season. Feliz said he's developing confidence in the pitches and is focused on his overall command.

For his part, Feliz would like the chance to start. But he understands it's not completely his decision.

"I'm confident and I feel like I can do better as a starter," Feliz said through a translator. "It's up to the team to decide and I'll do the best I can to help the team."