SURPRISE—Everyone has the right to change their mind and Neftali Feliz exercised his Monday.
The Rangers right-hander reversed field better than Adrian Peterson and said he would like the opportunity to begin the season in the starting rotation. Feliz made his remarks after holding a Dodgers' lineup that included no regulars to one run and three hits in four innings with one walk and five strikeouts in a 5-4 victory in a Cactus League game at Surprise Stadium.
That was directly opposite to Feliz's comments following his previous start. He said then that he would prefer to remain the closer. Feliz thrived in that role last season, posting 4.5 WARP, winning the American League Rookie of the Year and helping the Rangers to their first AL pennant.
So what changed? Feliz, through a translator, said that he is now more comfortable throwing a cut fastball. That would give him a needed third pitch as a starter to go along with fastball and curveball. Feliz is also working on a changeup.
"I'm more comfortable as a starting pitcher," Feliz said. "That is what I did until I got to the major leagues."
The Rangers are a sabermetrically savvy organization and realize that the 22-year-old Feliz would be more valuable pitching 180 innings as a starter this season than 75 in relief. They also need help in the rotation as left-hander C.J. Wilson and right-hander Colby Lewis are the only set starters less than three weeks before Opening Day. Furthermore, the Rangers' brass feels set-up reliever Mark Lowe could move into the closer's role now that his recovered from last year's back surgery.
Rangers manager Ron Washington would love Feliz in either role, saying "whatever he wants to do, he has to have his heart into it. That's the move important thing."