Scott Feldman turns back clock to 2009

ARLINGTON, Texas -- When Scott Feldman finally left the clubhouse after taking his uniform top off and talking to the media following his best start of the season, a group of family and friends were waiting for him. As soon as he appeared, they let out a big cheer. Feldman doffed his cap. And why not?

The 29-year-old, who has gone from long reliever to starter and back again a few times this season, is starting to find his groove. He put together his best overall performance in a few years Sunday, throwing eight shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox, allowing the Rangers to salvage a game in the series.

Feldman was doing a pretty good imitation of the guy who won 17 games in 2009 and received a three-year contract. That was before he struggled in 2010 after making the Opening Day start for Texas, then had microfracture surgery on his knee and missed half of the 2011 season. He came into this season hoping to challenge for a rotation spot, but with the club's deep staff, he ended up in the bullpen. But with injuries popping up, Feldman has had to jump in at various times. He struggled to find a rhythm earlier in the season and had a 7.83 ERA in June.

But he's bounced back big time in July. Feldman has a 1.96 ERA and has allowed just one earned run in his last 21 innings, dating back to July 4 against the White Sox. He's got three wins in the month, too.

With Colby Lewis out for the season following surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his elbow, the Rangers need someone to fill that spot. They've talked about stretching out Alexi Ogando and they may still go that way. But Feldman is certainly making them think about it.

So is he back to his 2009 form?

"That was a long time ago," Feldman said. "I was thankful for the opportunity to get out there and make pitches. The main adjustment I made was to try and have a better attitude and not get caught up in all the rumors and this and that about when I'm going to pitch or not pitch. I just worry about having a good time and keeping things simple."

One thing that is different about Feldman now as opposed to 2009 is his curve ball. It's become a bigger weapon for him to go to along with the sinker and cutter -- both of which were in great form Sunday. Feldman threw a 3-1 curve to Kevin Youkilis in the fifth inning with a runner at second and two outs and got him to ground out softly just a little ways down the first base line. That ended the inning and kept the Rangers ahead 1-0. They scored in the bottom half on Nelson Cruz's aggressive play to race home on a throw to first.

"It's way better than it was in 2009," Feldman said about the curve. "Back then, I was throwing sinkers and cutters and the occassional get-me-over curve ball. I have way more confidence in it now, that's for sure."

Feldman seems more confident, period. And with all of his pitches working, Feldman got a steady diet of ground balls and plenty of quick outs. He needed just 88 pitches in eight innings. The only other Ranger with at least eight innings and 88 pitches or less was Kevin Brown's four-hit shutout of the Twins on June 20, 1990 (STATS Inc.).

"The way things started off, I think it proves the point that it is a long season," Feldman said. "You're playing 162 games, so you can't make judgments on guys so quick maybe sometimes. It's one of those games where you go through ups and downs and you've got to stay mentally strong when you're struggling and to see the light at the end of the tunnel."