Posts Tagged ‘Ron Washington’

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SP5: The Feliz File: Starter, Closer, or Both?

03/18/2011

It’s the question that has dominated Surprise since pitchers and catchers reported last month: will Neftali Feliz return to the bullpen where he saved 40 games, picked up American League Rookie of the Year and All-Star honors or is he destined to become one of the five starting pitchers for the 2011 campaign? It seems no matter who you talk too, they have an opinion on where the fireballer should go. To the rotation some say, because his potential and talent only comes around once in a blue moon. Back to the bullpen, others say, because his secondary pitches are not yet refined enough to handle major league hitters two and three times a night for six innings plus. Both make valid arguments, so before we dive into whose right or wrong let’s look at how the staff would look under each scenario.

Neftali Feliz becomes a starter: In this case, you’ve got a top three rotation of CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, and Feliz with the last two spots to be fought over by the likes of Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Tommy Hunter, and others. You’ve also left a hole in your bullpen to fill in the ninth inning, which presumably would belong to Alexi Ogando who appears to be the in house closer candidate. Pitching coach Mike Maddux indicated earlier that Harrison and Hunter are the favorites to make it, so let’s assume those are the guys. Derek Holland and Michael Kirkman are the odd twosome out, with Holland most likely going into the pen and Kirkman taking a trip to Round Rock as one of their starters.

Neftali Feliz stays a closer: If Neftali returns to his role as the closer, you have a third starting spot open up for most likely Derek Holland to insert himself as the fourth or fifth starter. Ogando and Mark Lowe, who has been inconsistent this spring, become your right handed go to guys along with Darren O’ Day while Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver anchor the southpaw side of the bullpen. This would possibly open up for Kirkman to remain on the major league roster as the long man, and it more than likely means Eric Hurley goes back to Round Rock to further refine his stuff as he makes his comeback.

What does it mean? Well from this writer and fan’s perspective, it means that this year Feliz should go back to his spot at the back of the bullpen and work the magic he did during the 2010 campaign. No doubt Feliz has the talent, the potential, and the ceiling to become a front of the line starter someday. Note the word someday, however. His fastball is consistent, it’s not changing. But his slider or slurve(depending on whose looking at it) needs some polish, and his changeup is not reliable enough to be considered a third pitch. As a closer, he can get away with the big fastball and the occasional second pitch. Major league hitters can see it once and wonder what just flew by them. Give them two and three chances at it, and any hitter worth his salt will be able to key in on it and start hitting it. The simple fact is Feliz can start, but he isn’t ready for it yet.

But that word someday was included for a reason. Fast forward to Opening Day 2012. The crowd is large, the stadium is electric, and Chuck Morgan announces the starting pitcher as Neftali Feliz. Eight innings later, and the Rangers cling to a one run lead. The bullpen door open, and out runs…Heath Bell? Jonathan Papelbon? Next year’s free agent class is much heavier on relievers, as opposed to this year when Rafael Soriano was the big prize. Besides the two just listed other potential free agent signings include Matt Capps, Brad Lidge, Joe Nathan, and Jose Valverde. It’s very conceivable that should CJ Wilson leave in free agency(as this is a contract year for him as well) that the Rangers could spend the money they did not give to him on a closer with the intent to sure up the back end of the bullpen. There’s no doubt that you’d feel much better about those candidates, all of who have proven their mettle as a closer, than an Ogando or a Lowe who hasn’t been put in the cooker of the closer’s role over time. It softens the blow of Feliz leaving the bullpen, and it also allows him to gain the most valuable thing at his age: experience. Experience in the majors seeing the best hitters on the planet. Experience with throwing his second and third pitches, while learning how to throw them. Experience in how to handle his new found stardom that comes from being such a vital piece to a team on the rise. One more year in the bullpen is nothing but good for Feliz, the Rangers, and the fans who got used to saying “Hello Win Column” while Feliz celebrated after the last out. Feliz will start again tomorrow night, and if he does well it’s probable he could end up moving to the rotation. But until manager Ron Washington comes out and says one way or the other, fans and Feliz alike will continue to sing the same tune.

Sam

sam@sportsperspective.net

twitter.com/SHSPerspective

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SP2: Ten questions to be answered on Hwy. 162(Part 2)

02/24/2011

In part 1 of our series we covered the topics of Michael Young’s standoff with management, what impact(if any) Cliff Lee’s departure for Philadelphia would have on the team, and my projected Opening Day rotation. Three down, time to answer three more questions about what those red shoe Rangers will have to face as they make their way down Hwy. 162.

 

4. You’ve discussed the rotation, but what’s your take on the bullpen going into this year?

Answer: Mike Rhyner had a very solid quote when he said “The best thing you can say about a bullpen is that you have one.” Spending a good part of my existence with Ranger baseball being fairly poor, the pitching staff on the whole has been terrible and the bullpen has been no exception.  Last year however, the Rangers had a 3.38 ERA in the bullpen which was good for sixth among all the major league clubs. This will all depend on if Neftali Feliz goes to the rotation, same with Alexi Ogando. However since I listed my Opening Day rotation without those two, for the purpose of this question let’s assume they will both be in the bullpen. So you have Neftali in the ninth inning, Ogando as your eighth inning guy, Darren O’Day, Mark Lowe, Arthur Rhodes, and Darren Oliver locked into your bullpen with the long reliever spot open and up for competition. As far as my take on the bullpen, I’m more than happy with it. Darren Oliver got a lot of work last year, and now Ron Washington has two Olivers with the addition of Arthur Rhodes so you figure he can split the work load of what Oliver would have had between those two and keep each man fresh. One night Oliver can go, the next night Rhodes. Keep cycling them, keep them fresh, and you don’t have to worry about that. The thing I like the most about this bullpen is the potential options you have. Matt Harrison could be a long man, you might see Tanner Scheppers come out like a house of fire to be yet another good young bullpen arm, even Kirkman(who I’ve projected into the rotation) could make it in. There is a good solid pool to pull from, and I’m thinking this is going to be a benefit. The more depth you can have on a team, and for your bullpen in particular then that is nothing but a good thing. Keep an eye out for Yoshinori Tateyama, he’s a dark horse candidate to make an impact in the bullpen. He’s definitely a wild card, but Jon Daniels has been fairly resourceful with his signings. O’Day was a waiver wire pick up, Mark Lowe was a throw in on the Cliff Lee deal, Matt Harrison was one of the last pieces of the Mark Teixeira trade. With any luck, Tateyama will be able to write his name on that list when the 2011 season is over.

 

5. Who do you feel is the one player on the club who needs to make 2011 his break out year?

Answer: This player is also the most frustrating Rangers player on the roster for me: Julio Borbon. From the great Jason Parks, here’s a scouting report on Borbon written in 2009: “While I don’t think Borbon will ever become the prototypical top-of-the-order threat that many Rangers fans envision, I do believe that he will be able to offer league-average offensive production while providing above-average defense in center field. That, despite what the slightly disappointing tone to this report might suggest, has tremendous value.” Parks was right on the nose, however we have not seen this from Borbon yet. Example: last year Borbon had 59 strikeouts as compared to only 19 walks. On base percentage was .309, while the average for the entire league was .325. His batting average dropped, however he played in over ninety more games last year than he did the year before so you have to factor that in. Borbon is a very fast player, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to call him the fastest guy on the team. With that said, if he’s only using that speed to walk quickly back to the dugout after you strike out then you might as well not have it at all. Borbon needs to figure out how to get on base period, if he can do that then he quickly becomes a valuable asset to this team. If you can put Borbon on base, no matter where you put him in the line up then you can get him home because he has some great wheels. If you are expecting the second coming of Rickey Henderson, please feel free to check yourself into the nearest insane asylum because you will not get that. If Borbon gets up to his potential, lives up to his billing, then he will be getting on base more and you’ll see him cross the plate when the puck movers on this team start to hit. Or, he will be traded in a deal to acquire a starting pitcher because Engel Beltre will force himself into the picture for the starting center field job in a year or so. Either way, I fully believe Borbon can be useful to this team in some form or fashion. I would like him to turn into a Gold Glove center fielder whose an on base machine, and I hope in a year or so I can come back and say that he did just that. But I’m a realist, and right now Borbon is in a “prove it” mode to me and should be to all Rangers fans. It’s time for him to step up, or be included in a deal to bring someone that will help the team. I’m a Borbon fan, but my expectations are low.

 

6. You said in Part 1 that you had an Opening Day rotation. Does this mean you feel the rotation will change sometime within the year?

Answer: Absolutely. The starting five on April 1st I projected as CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, Tommy Hunter, Derek Holland, and Michael Kirkman. Brandon Webb was not included, but by June I fully expect him to replace either Holland or Kirkman in the roster. Not because those performed poorly, though that’s very possibly. The talk out of Rangers camp is that Webb will be handled with care, due to his aforementioned monkey shoulder and that could include a stint in AAA to start the year for two reasons. So that he can get on a regular rotation, and so there is no real pressure on him to succeed. It would allow him to build his velocity, and get used to pitching again. If Webb can get anywhere close to where he was in his prime, then he can easily unseat one of the lower guys and force his way back into the rotation. I’m convinced that if Webb ends up in Round Rock to start the year, we will see him with the major league club only when he is back up to speed. Which is fine with me, because when Brandon Webb is on his game I can’t pitch him enough. So by sometime in June, possibly July I hope we are seeing a CJ/Colby/Hunter/Holland/Webb or CJ/Colby/Hunter/Webb/Kirkman rotation. He could replace Tommy Hunter, but more logically I think  see one of the two younger lefties falling down and Webb performing well enough for Round Rock to earn his spot back with the major league club. Let me reiterate I do not think we see Webb in the majors unless the team feels he can make it work. So if he’s in the rotation on Opening Day, or if he has to wait some time while that may not set well with him it’s for the best. If it’s not Brandon Webb, then it’s very possible my original rotation holds form until the season is over. It would shock me to no end, but it’s possible. I’m not anywhere near convinced Matt Harrison is useful as a starter anymore, regardless of what articles are written about him. Scott Feldman is recovering from microfracture surgery, and nothing he did last year showed us that the 17 win year he had in 2009 was anything but a fluke. Brandon Webb would be 5A in a situation like that, and if he’s performing well then by all means give him a shot if the opportunity arises.

Another section of questions knocked out. Next time, the last four questions including the big one “Can the Rangers get back to the World Series?”

Sam

sam@sportsperspective.net

twitter.com/SHSPerspective