Neftali Feliz impresses with off-speed pitches

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Outside of the first few batters, there was nothing in Neftali Feliz's demeanor or in his results that would have suggested he was making his first big league start.

"He was in control," Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Totally."

The 23-year-old Feliz kept the Seattle Mariners completely off-balance. And it was his secondary stuff that did it. Sure, the fastball command got better after a shaky first inning. But Feliz's changeup, a pitch he really worked on this offseason, and his slider made the fastball even more effective. Feliz wasn't afraid to use those pitches, either. By the time his night ended, he had gone seven shutout innings with two walks and four strikeouts in a 1-0 Rangers win. It was his longest outing as a professional. He started 53 minor league games, but his career-high for innings in a game was 6 2/3 on April 5, 2008, at Class A Clinton.

"He mixed in all his pitches, got ahead, threw first-pitch off-speed strikes and threw inside," catcher Mike Napoli said. "[It was a] great night for him."

Feliz admitted feeling a "little pressure" early, which might have led to walking two of the first three batters. But nothing calms the nerves like a double play. After that first inning, Feliz didn't walk another batter and only one baserunner got into scoring position.

He threw a steady diet of fastballs early and established it, then -- when the lineup came up a second time -- Napoli had Feliz throw more off-speed stuff. Feliz's slider was in the low 80 mph range and the changeup was anywhere from 84 to 88 mph. Feliz said he can alter the speed on his changeup by a few miles per hour by tweaking his grip, something he worked on in Surprise, Ariz., this spring.

"I noticed his changeup was on," Napoli said. "We were going with it, and it was a good pitch for him tonight. That can change from night to night. That's what you've got to do as a starter. You can't just go out and throw fastballs every single time through the lineup. You've got to be able to mix it up, and he did that."

Washington praised Napoli's game-calling and the chemistry he had with Feliz. Napoli said Feliz shook him off a few times, but that they were on the same page in terms of what they wanted to do.

Napoli says Feliz's changeup has improved steadily since he first caught Feliz when pitchers and catchers reported in late Februrary.

"It's come quite some ways," Napoli said about the changeup. "It's a good pitch for him. He's able to throw it to righties. He uses good arm speed on it."

For the first time in his major league career, Feliz had to watch from the dugout as someone else finished one of his starts.

For two seasons, it was Feliz that would have usually come into a one-run game in the ninth inning to try to close the game for one of club's starters. Now, the roles are reversed.

"I know we have a good bullpen," Feliz said through an interpreter. "They had to do it."

And they did. Mike Adams and Joe Nathan pitched a scoreless eighth and ninth, respectively, to get Feliz a win in his first big league start.

"Now we just have to build on it," Napoli said.

Feliz kept the the Rangers in the game, just like his counterparts did in the four previous starts. After one trip through the rotation, Rangers starters have combined for four wins with an ERA of 2.93.