There’s a debate rising in Dallas/Fort Worth. A debate that began Saturday night at Rangers Ballpark has undoubtedly made its way around the sports radio airwaves.
On Saturday night, the Texas Rangers handed the ball over to closer Neftali Feliz in the top half of the ninth with a 4-3 lead. For the sixth time in 28 chances, Feliz couldn’t keep the lead, and the Rangers would end up falling to the Cleveland Indians, 7-5.
Feliz, in 70 appearances last season, he had blown just three saves. This season, in just 48 appearances, he’s doubled that number.
One night later, Adams showed just how dominant he could be when the game was turned over to him in a save situation. Seven pitches and three outs later, the Rangers ended a Sunday night with a 5-3 win and a series win over the Indians.
After that performance the debate became even hotter.
On Monday morning, fans and media alike will talk about what the future holds for Feliz and if the Rangers should give the ball to the right man at the right time.
There will be those who will tell you it’s the third straight day Feliz had come in to a game in the ninth inning. But as a reliever, shouldn’t he be able to throw 15-20 pitches each day for three days straight? He’s only pitching one inning.
The scariest stat of all comes in nighttime relief appearances. The media jumped down the throat of outfielder Josh Hamilton when he said he was struggling to see the ball during the day but when you look at this one stat for Feliz, will the media jump down his throat?
In 28 innings of relief during night games, Feliz has given up 18 runs, 17 of those earned, including four home runs. He also has just one fewer walk (16) than he does strikeouts (17). The most telling stat of all in night relief appearances is the fact that batters are hitting .282 against Feliz.
If he’s struggling this much as a reliever, how will the Rangers ever trust him as a starter?
The biggest debate, when it comes to Feliz, seems to be more about his pitch selection than actually blowing saves.
On Saturday, Feliz threw more fastballs than any other pitch. The Indians were sitting back and waiting for that one pitch to come, knowing full well that, although he can spot it on the inside and outside corners, he’d miss his location at some point.
They were right.
He is leaning too heavily on that pitch. There are those who will say the fault goes to catcher Yorvit Torrealba for calling for Feliz to throw too many fastballs.
While you can certainly have that opinion, doesn’t Feliz have the ability to shake off any pitch a catcher is calling for? Doesn’t he have the authority to tell Torrealba, “I don’t want to throw that right now?”
Here’s where I believe the problem really is: Feliz isn’t recognizing what’s going on around him. He’s not seeing how many hitters are sitting on his fastball waiting for him to make a mistake. It doesn’t matter how hard he throws that one pitch, miss a location just once to a big-league hitter and you’ll pay the price.
If he’s going to be an affective closer for the Texas Rangers, he has to learn how to throw other pitches. He needs to be working with pitching coach Mike Maddux to develop and work on his other pitches.
Feliz needs to keep hitters off-balance, and he’s not going to do that by throwing four or five straight fastballs without mixing in something else. Sure, he throws hard, but just because he throws a pitch above 95 mph doesn’t make him an effective closer.
Want an example? How about the all-time saves leader, Trevor Hoffman.
Toward the end of his career, Hoffman’s fastball only topped off around 87 to 89. What made him so great was that one equalizer. The changeup. Hitters knew it was coming, they knew that was the one go-to pitch for Hoffman. But because his arm action was the exact same on the changeup as it was on the fastball, hitters had an impossible time picking up that pitch.
Look at long-time New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. He’s not the hardest throwing guy on the mound but he has that one pitch he can go to that has been so effective for so long. He sets up hitters with the fastball and maybe a changeup or two here or there, but then he throws a cutter that can be so unhittable.
If Feliz wants to learn how to be a closer, maybe it’s time for him to learn from guys who have been there and done that throughout their entire careers. The more he learns from guys like that, the more he’s going to realize where things are going wrong.
If he makes just a few simple changes, including not relying on one single pitch, Feliz has the potential to be one of the more dominant closers in baseball today.
Not changing what hasn’t worked for him will result in watching Adams and Uehara do the job he has struggled to do.
The Rangers don’t seem to want to give up on Feliz right now, but how many saves will he have to blow and how many games can this team afford to lose before a much-needed change is made?