When the Texas Rangers chose to convert top prospect Neftali Feliz into a reliever in late-June, they were most likely expecting to have a couple of holes in their big league bullpen.
Over a month later, those holes have yet to open up. The Rangers' bullpen has a 3.77 earned-run average this season, good enough for third in the American League. The highest ERA for a current Rangers reliever is veteran lefty Eddie Guardado—at 4.02.
Regardless, the club decided Feliz's time has come, as he received his first Major League call-up on Sunday afternoon.
The Rangers may be in a pennant race this season, but if last week's trade deadline action—or lack thereof—proved anything, it showed the organization still has its eye on the future.
After this season, Feliz says he doesn't know whether he'll return to a starting role or remain in the bullpen.
"I didn't have much of a clue about what went on when they made the move," he explained. "But I was definitely ready for whatever they needed me to do. I'm just ready for whatever role they play me in."
In all likelihood, Feliz will be a starter with the 2010 season opens, but he could also develop into a dominant late-inning reliever down the line.
In fact, Feliz may be a dominant late-inning reliever right now.
The 21-year-old began the season in the rotation for Triple-A Oklahoma City with solid—but not spectacular—results. Since moving to the bullpen, the numbers have been eye-popping.
As a reliever with the RedHawks, Feliz surrendered just four runs on ten hits [.169 BAA] in 16.2 innings. He walked just three batters while striking out 20.
Feliz is quick to credit his pitching coach, Terry Clark, for helping him turn the corner in Triple-A.
"At first, I was a little bit up-and-down and I was kind of lost in a way," Feliz said. "But I've been a little better and I figured some things out with my pitching coach, T.C."
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound prospect has also seen his stuff improve since becoming a reliever. Feliz's fastball often sits in the upper-90s, reaching as high as 101 and 102 mph at times. He is now using all three of his pitches early and often—something he didn't do as a starter.
"When I start, I focus on trying to go for a long time," he said. "I don't usually throw all my pitches in the first couple of innings. But when I'm coming out of the bullpen, I can let it go and just throw everything at once because I'm not worried about facing the guys as many times."
That was certainly put on display during Feliz's Major League debut on Monday evening. He mixed in a number of low-80s sliders and upper-80s, low-90s changeups during his 30-pitch outing.
The primary reason for Feliz's bullpen success has been command. The right-hander is consistently throwing his offspeed stuff for strikes, which is one key development from last season.
"I trust [my offspeed stuff] a lot more," Feliz said. "I'm able to throw them and I work on them every day. I'm feeling more comfortable and I'm trusting them in certain counts that I wouldn't have before. But now I'm doing it more often, and that's why I've been effective."
Feliz's fastball command has also been a plus since moving to the 'pen. He is consistently getting ahead of hitters with his fastball, and he has been able to spot it down in the zone.
The Dominican Republic native says it's all about release point.
"I've been working on getting ahead in the count and pounding the strike zone," said Feliz, who threw 21 of his 30 pitches for strikes in Monday. "I always want to release that ball in front and it'll let me keep the ball low."
Command becoming a plus for Feliz
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