Neftali Feliz is scheduled to throw the final three innings of Wednesday's game against Oakland, which is a change from the original plan of a few days ago. But then, a lot has changed in the last couple days. Feliz wants to close.
According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, Feliz expressed as much to Rangers president Nolan Ryan on Sunday. On Monday, this is what Feliz said to Evan, through outfielder Julio Borbon, who was acting as a translator: "I'm comfortable there and I've done it before at this level and I know what it takes," Feliz said. "What I went through last year made me feel more comfortable with the role. I experienced it at a very high level. But if I start, I'll get myself into a routine and get comfortable with it again. If I start, I'm not going to hold back or not go at it all the way. I'm going to do what I do."
When I heard Evan talking on the radio about this on Monday, I wondered how quickly this story would turn from "If given a choice, Feliz prefers to close" to "Feliz doesn't want to start." It's not quite the same. If I'm given a choice between doing a story on Terrell Owens, or doing a story on a high school kid who has come back from cancer to start for the basketball team, I'm picking the high school story. But I wouldn't be upset if they told me to do the Owens one.
With that said, it is possible that Feliz is completely opposed to becoming a starter, and what he said to Evan is the best way to convey that without sounding like a bad guy. But if we take his words at face value, then it sounds like he's giving an honest answer to the question, and that closing is his preference. And why wouldn't he rather close, if it were up to him? He had huge success as a closer last year at the big league level, and obviously he's never started in the majors. Feliz told Evan, "If I end up starting, I will get into a routine and I will get more comfortable with it. It's not that I'm not comfortable. I just haven't done it in a while." I liked the idea of Feliz starting, or at the very least, going through spring training as a starter and then the team deciding near the end of March what his role would be.
Starting pitchers are much more valuable than relievers. As good as Feliz was last year, teams always seem to be able to find a closer (remember, the Rangers "found" Feliz last April, after Frankie Francisco was so bad the first week of the regular season). While I would prefer Feliz to become a starter, the alternative isn't a bad option.