We continue our Five Burning Questions for the Texas Rangers' 2015 season by looking at the closer's job.
Can Neftali Feliz take over the closer's role again?
Feliz was given the closer's role in mid-July after the trade of Joakim Soria. Feliz's shaky velocity was a concern early, but there were times he hit the upper 90s with his fastball and that has given the Rangers confidence he can become the closer again in 2015.
He pitched on consecutive days four times after getting the closer's job back and saved 13 games. There were times when Feliz's velocity was in the low-to-mid 90s and he talked about needing to pitch more to gain strength after his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
As the season moved along, Feliz gave up only two earned runs over his final 19 appearances, lowering his ERA from 3.00 to 1.99 in that span.
Interm manager Tim Bogar said if he's hired permanently, Feliz would be his guy moving forward. In 2015, the Rangers can't afford a rebuilding mode after what happened this past season, and Feliz is needed to make sure when the game is close he can finish it.
In 2010, he saved 40 games and led the AL with 59 games finished. The next season he had 32 saves with opponents hitting only .194. But then came the change. The Rangers switched him to the rotation and his arm went awry.
It's easy to second-guess that decision, but what's the point? Feliz is here now trying to become the closer again with questionable velocity. Maybe it will return to the mid-to-high 90s on a consistent basis. If not, then he has to learn how to pitch with reduced velocity and mix some offspeed pitches in the ninth inning.
It doesn't make sense to find another closer on the free-agent market or to move Feliz to a setup role. The market just seems too expensive and some uncertainty exists regarding consistency. Should the Rangers try to get David Robertson, Francisco Rodriguez or Sergio Romo?
The easy thing is to let Feliz become the closer and hope his arm holds up over the course of a 162-game season. Can Feliz pitch in 60-plus games again?
It seems doubtful, but if he can reach the 50-to-55 game range, then the Rangers should be happy. If Feliz is pitching in that many games, then maybe the Rangers are in a pennant race.