Rangers closer Feliz eyes return to form in '15

Veteran right-hander working hard in offseason to regain fastball heat

Rangers closer Feliz eyes return to form in '15

ARLINGTON -- This much is known. Rangers closer Neftali Feliz has hired a personal trainer to help him with his offseason workouts.

"He helps me on what I need to work on in a very different conditioning program," Feliz said through Rangers broadcaster/translator Eleno Ornelas.

The news is significant because it suggests Feliz may be determined to come to Spring Training in the best shape of his career. Having regained his job as closer in the second half of last season, Feliz, who is two years and five months removed from Tommy John surgery, appears determined to get back to the level he was at in 2010-11, when Texas went to two World Series.

As bad as things went for the Rangers in 2014, getting Feliz back into the closer's role may have been the most positive development to come out of the season.

"For me, it is a very important part in my career," Feliz said. "I was a closer before and just was getting back on track."

Feliz locks up the win

The Rangers went into Spring Training last year hoping Feliz might reclaim the closer's role. But he was not nearly as ready as they thought and he had trouble with his mechanics. Instead of being the closer, Feliz didn't even make the team and began the season at Triple-A.

Feliz didn't get back to the big leagues until July 4. Three weeks later, the Rangers had no choice but to make him the closer again when they traded Joakim Soria to the Tigers. Feliz ended up pitching in 30 games for Texas, and he was 2-1 with a 1.99 ERA and 13 saves in 14 attempts. Opponents hit .183 off him and he had a 0.98 WHIP.

All those numbers were very similar to when Feliz was the closer in 2010-11. He pitched in 134 games over those two seasons, with 72 saves in 81 opportunities, a 2.73 ERA, a .184 opponents batting average and a 0.99 WHIP.

The difference is Feliz doesn't throw as hard as he did before undergoing surgery on Aug. 1, 2012. Before the procedure and the ill-fated 2012 attempt to move him into the rotation, Feliz's fastball averaged 96 mph. He was at 93 last season. Feliz compensated by going to his offspeed pitches more, throwing the changeup and breaking ball about 27 percent of the time. He threw them approximately 16 percent of the time back in 2010.

"The difference is I have more experience," Feliz said. "I control more pitches and rely on my repertoire."

The fastball heat could return this season as Feliz works with his personal trainer and gets farther away from the surgery. For all his experience, Feliz won't turn 27 until May 2.

"The surgery is in the very far past for me," Feliz said. "Thank God. I'm working harder, because as I told you, my trainer helps me. We started right after the day the season was over. I feel great and healthy.

"With the experience, I am more confident. Coming back from surgery, it takes a lot of things to work with, especially your confidence, trusting your elbow is OK and getting stronger. That I did and finally I feel great."

A big part of this offseason for the Rangers is making sure a long list of players are healthy and will be at full strength going into Spring Training. Feliz wasn't officially injured last season, but he is still on the list because of who he is and the obvious important role he needs to lock down in 2015.

The bullpen is the one area the Rangers feel most confident about in '15. Having Feliz working with a personal trainer and apparently determined to be in great condition going into Spring Training can only add to that confidence.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.