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Neftali Feliz goes 4 strong in start as Rangers win; John Ely shaky for Dodgers

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Neftali Feliz wants to start for the Texas Rangers after all and took a step in that direction Monday.

Feliz threw four strong innings, Adrian Beltre made his Texas debut and Josh Hamilton hit his first home run in the Rangers' 5-4 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A week ago, Feliz said he was more comfortable closing -- a role in which he earned AL rookie of the year honors last season -- than starting.

After scattering three runs and a hit with five strikeouts, though, Feliz said while he's comfortable as a closer he never has stopped working to become part of the Rangers' starting rotation.

"It was only the pitches, not myself," Feliz said. "I want to start."

Feliz's comments about closing came a couple of days after throwing two innings of two-hit ball against Cleveland, a game in which he said he was comfortable with only two pitches, his fastball and curve.

"You [the media] asked me if I felt more comfortable about being a closer," Feliz said, "and I do feel comfortable. I had trouble with my changeup so I was working with my pitching coach [Mike Maddux] on the cutter so I could work to be a starter."

After holding Oakland to one hit across three innings of relief in his last appearance, he said he started to become more comfortable with his cut fastball.

"When I was making it three pitches, I talked to my pitching coach and said I would try to win a spot in the rotation," Feliz said. "That's what I like more, to be a starter."

Rangers manager Ron Washington said Feliz's eventual role remains undecided, depending on how things develop through the rest of spring.

"He'll make up his mind sooner or later," Washington said. "It's open. We'll see what happens as we go along."

Beltre, who signed a six-year, $96-million contract with Texas in January after hitting .321 with 28 homers and 102 RBIs for Boston, has been slowed by a right calf strain since he reported to camp.

Beltre ran hard on a grounder in the hole at short in the third inning, then singled in the fifth before giving way to a pinch runner. In the field, his outing was uneventful with no putouts or assists.

"It felt good to finally get out there and be with the guys," Beltre said. "My timing is a little off but as the innings go I'm going to be better."

Dodgers starter John Ely also went four innings, allowing four runs -- three earned -- on six hits with three strikeouts. Ely has yet to issue a walk in 10 innings this spring.

"Last year, I was real tentative about hitting the strike zone and all," Ely said. "If they hit it, they hit it. It's better than putting free men on base. So I'm happy about not walking a lot of guys this spring."

Ely's seemingly slim chances of making the Dodgers' final 25-man roster improved slightly last week when Jon Garland strained his left oblique muscle in a start against the Mariners. Garland is expected to be out through mid- to late-April, leaving Ely to battle right-hander Tim Redding for a spot at the back end of the rotation or in the bullpen as a long reliever.

Game notes
Thanks to their early schedule the Dodgers won't need a fifth starter until April 12. ... Hamilton's three-run homer in the third ended a 33 at-bat drought. Told that Ely was trying to locate an inside fastball off the plate that didn't quite break far enough, Hamilton said smilingly, "Tell him thank you for me." ... David Murphy had a pair of hits for Texas, including an RBI double in the second. ... Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was auditioning all his left-field candidates against the Rangers. Xavier Paul started in left, Gabe Kapler in center, Jerry Sands in right and Marcus Thames at designated hitter. ... Washington said the Rangers' starting first base job is Mitch Moreland's to lose. If that holds through the rest of camp, it would almost certainly mean Chris Davis would start the season in Triple-A unless he were traded.