ST. LOUIS -- Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando are the big names in the Texas Rangers' bullpen. Feliz, after all, was last season's American League Rookie of the Year and can throw a baseball through a car wash and keep it dry. Ogando, the oufielder-turned reliever-turned starter-turned temporary bullpen dynamo, throws nearly as hard.
But it's the depth of the Texas bullpen that has allowed Ron Washington to overcame some shaky outings by his starters this postseason and why the Rangers beat the Tigers in two 11-inning games in the ALCS. Mike Adams and Scott Feldman are two of those relievers, two guys who have become indispensable parts of the Rangers' World Series run.
Both pitchers have the scars to prove that baseball isn't always easy, that for pitchers in particular it can be a grueling grind of success, failure and injury. Feldman was a lowly 30th-round pick by the Rangers in 2003, a non-prospect who then blew out his elbow four games into his professional career. He had Tommy John surgery that October. Remarkably, he reached the majors in 2005. Converted to a starter, he had a breakout season in 2009 when he won 17 games and became the Rangers' Opening Day starter in 2010.
Feldman credits former Rangers pitching Mark Connor for helping his career. "I was throwing more sidearm and he raised my arm up, which helped me do a little more against left-handers," Feldman said Tuesday. But that magical 2009 season was followed by a nightmarish 2010, as his ERA rose to 5.48 and he was left off the postseason roster and had to watch from the bench as the Rangers reached the World Series.
"I was happy to see my buddies doing so well," Feldman said, "but at the same time you want to be out there contributing and helping out." He had microfracture knee surgery in the offseason, putting his 2011 in season in doubt. While rehabbing in the minors in July, he was moved from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL. A few days later, he was outrighted to the minors, which meant any team could have claimed him on waivers. With his salary ($4.4 million this year, $6.5 million next year), no team did. Once he cleared waivers, Feldman explained that he had enough service time to reject the assignment to the minors. The Rangers decided to activate him rather than release him.
"Considering where I was in spring training, it's great to be here," Feldman said. "The other guys in the bullpen have helped in my preparation, how to be ready to enter the game at any time." Indeed, Feldman may have thrown the most important 4 1/3 innings of the Texas season, when he came on in the third inning of Game 2 of the ALCS and gave up just one hit as the Rangers rallied to tie a game they eventually won in extra innings. In 8 2/3 postseason innings, he's allowed just three hits, no walks and has nine strikeouts. And the guy who once had trouble with left-handed batters? It's admittedly a small sample size (58 at-bats), but he held them to a .155 average in the regular season.
Adams has his own scars. At least Feldman was drafted; Adams wasn't even selected in the draft out of Texas A&M-Kingsville. He signed with the Brewers as an amateur free agent and first reached the majors in 2004. He spent 2006 getting shuttled from the Brewers to the Mets to the Indians to the Padres. And then missed all of 2007 with three knee surgeries. After a solid season in 2008, he missed the first part of 2009 following shoulder surgery.
"I'll tell you what," Adams said, "I view the injuries as the best things that have happened to me. I'll admit at times I wondered if I'd ever make it back, but with all those hours I spent working out with my headphones on, you do learn to appreciate the game and how much I love to compete."
Adams returned and became one of the premier setup men in baseball. The Padres dealt him to the Rangers in July -- the team he grew up rooting for while growing up in Texas. His idol was Nolan Ryan and he had a poster of Ryan in his bedroom. He talked about meeting Ryan for the first time after the trade.
"I was in awe," he said. "I mean, it's Nolan Ryan! I was definitely more than a little awestruck. But now I'll go up to him and say hello. He doesn't come into the clubhouse too much, but sometimes I'll see him sitting on the couch in the manager's office and I'll poke my head in and try to pick his brain a little bit. He doesn't usually say much though. What can he say? He's Nolan Ryan!"
The gregarious right-hander spoke with confidence about his team's bullpen. "We probably have the most dominant bullpen in the playoffs," he said. "I know the St. Louis bullpen did a great job, but our group had an MVP-type performance (in the ALCS) as well. If they need us to come in early, we have some guys who can throw some zeroes."
Asked how the team plans to approach Albert Pujols, Adams laughed, "Don't let him hit a home run." He admitted he did get him out a few times while pitching for the Padres (Pujols is 1-for-8 off Adams, with three walks and three strikeouts). It's undoubtedly a matchup that will arise in a key situation at some point. "I hope we pitch to him and go after him," Adams said. "We know he's a great hitter, but every pitcher wants to go after after the best."
Pujols will be expected to do big things for the Cardinals. Scott Feldman and Mike Adams will be two of the key guys trying to prevent that from happening.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.