Baseball analysts and writers have been split on the Texas Rangers' decision to leave Neftali Feliz in the bullpen this year. Some felt that the Rangers took the safe route instead of working outside the box. Others felt that the Rangers had no other options for closer and that Feliz would be more important to the team as its closer. This writer is in the former camp and the injury to Tommy Hunter only points out how valuable starting pitching is these days. But what's done is done and it's all a moot point because Feliz is going to be the closer this year. But here is an option for the Rangers and it's an option that remembers another great pitcher from the Dominican Republic--a guy named Pedro Martinez.
Martinez got his start with the Los Angeles Dodgers and his first full year was 1993. He was 21 years old, which puts him two years ahead of Feliz who is 23. In 1993, Pedro pitched exclusively in relief for the Dodgers and got into 65 games. But he pitched 107 innings. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the Dodgers traded Pedro Martinez to the Montreal Expos (for Delino DeShields) after that season. The Expos immediately made him a starter, but 1994 was the strike season and as such, Martinez only pitched 144 innings. Though the strike was unfortunate, especially since the Expos might have won it all that year, it did allow Martinez to gradually up his innings instead of making the big jump from 107 innings to 33 full time starts. How does this all relate to Neftali Feliz?
The suggestion here is to increase as much as you can the number of innings Feliz throws in relief this year. Last year, Feliz got into 70 games, but he only pitched a total of 69 and a third innings. Increase his workload to include more two inning outings, especially after a couple of off days and before any point in the schedule where the team is off the next day (like Sundays or Wednesdays). If by doing this, you can stretch Feliz up near 100 innings, then he is set up to move up to 150 or so the following season as a starter. Following that blueprint, you can follow the career path of Pedro Martinez.
Granted, guys like Pedro Martinez don't come along every day. His competitive nature, his smarts as a pitcher and his repertoire made him the best pitcher of his era. Feliz may not have all of those things, but he sure has the stuff to be great.
The additional benefit to stretching out Feliz in his outings is to take some of the strain off a struggling bullpen. First, it must be said that the bullpen struggles this spring could be solely due to pitching in Arizona which is a hitter's paradise. Have you seen the scores of the games this spring? Holy cow, how many games with ten runs or more can you have? But still, no matter how much the bullpen improves during the regular season, Feliz is your best guy. The Rangers can't do any better with anyone else pitching the eighth and ninth than Feliz.
So that's the plan submitted by this albeit non-expert. Make the most of the decision to put Feliz back in the bullpen by stretching out his innings as much as you can while monitoring the pitcher's health at all times. Increase his workload so that you get even more value and benefit from the decision that has been made. And then next year, get him into the rotation where he belongs. Pedro was just a slight guy at five feet, eleven inches. Feliz is a lot bigger and stronger. Get him where he needs to go this year and maybe you can (in the future) have your next Pedro Martinez.