Texas Rangers Spring Training Player Profile: Neftali Feliz
Game 6 of the 2011 World Series was one of the most heartbreaking losses in the history of sports. The Texas Rangers were one strike away from being World Champions until David Freese hit a shot deep to right field just out of the reach of RF Nelson Cruz for a game-tying two-run triple. Texas would go on to lose in the eleventh inning when Freese hit a home run to center field. Rangers’ fans cringe when they think about it. It still stings. If it still hurts fans to think about it, then what does it do to Rangers’ pitcher Neftali Feliz when he thinks about it?
Feliz was the one on the mound in St Louis that cold October night. At the time, the 23-year old had experienced only success in his MLB career. In two seasons as the Texas closer, Feliz recorded 72 saves and had been named “Rookie of the Year” for 2010. His first taste of adversity was the ultimate adversity. Feliz was so devastated that the Rangers did not feel confident enough to send him back out to pitch the tenth inning.
In 2012, Texas was still not sure Feliz should be the closer, so they signed Joe Nathan to a two-year deal and attempted to make Feliz a starting pitcher. Feliz ended up hurting his UCL and having Tommy John surgery. Feliz missed most of the 2013 season due to the injury but did come back to make six relief appearances in September.
When the Rangers get to Surprise, Ariz. for Spring Training, they must decide who their 2014 closer will be. Many people believe one of the top candidates is Feliz. The question is, does Feliz have the nightmares of Game 6 sufficiently out of his head enough to be ready for that? Only Feliz knows that answer.
If the Rangers name Feliz their closer, there will be critics who will question the decision. Rangers manager Ron Washington is not one to care about the critics, though. He does not mind being unconventional. He is extremely loyal to his players, and in return his players would run through a wall for him.
Washington knows what Feliz has been through in the past two and a half years and would love nothing more than to see him succeed in a big way in 2014. While some may think it is crazy to let Feliz be the closer, Washington may think there is no better way to rewrite the narrative and give Feliz and the Rangers a happy ending.