Rangers seek experienced closer if Feliz starts

Rangers seek experienced closer if Feliz starts

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers have not made the decision to move All-Star closer Neftali Feliz into the rotation.

If they do, manager Ron Washington wants an experienced closer to take his place in the Rangers' bullpen. They do not have that pitcher in camp right now.

"I have confidence in [general manager] Jon Daniels and our scouts that if that's the case, I'm 100 percent certain they can go out and find somebody," Washington said.

Mark Lowe and Alexi Ogando are likely to be the leading candidates from within the organization to be the closer if the Rangers do move Feliz to the rotation. Neither has been a full-time closer at the big league level.

"I feel confident in all our relievers, but we're talking about a closer," Washington said. "We have guys in the clubhouse that have closed games, but we need somebody who is a bona fide closer. If we don't have that, we'll find one."

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Feliz saved 40 games for the Rangers last year in helping them get to the World Series, but he came to camp as a candidate for the rotation. He has pitched well this spring, and he said Monday that he wants to be in the rotation. A week ago Feliz said he would be more comfortable remaining as the closer, but that apparently is not the case.

His change of heart once again has the Rangers contemplating their options at the back end of the bullpen if Feliz does become a starter.

"We're going to look at all our options," Daniels said. "We have a guy who we're comfortable with at the back end, but who may ultimately have an even bigger impact as a starter. We'll weigh that with our alternatives in the 'pen, our other young starters -- many of whom are showing signs of improvement -- and what's best for the club overall."

The Rangers have discussed the possibility of Lowe being a closer. He has the combination of power pitches and Major League experience, and he did have three saves as a backup closer behind David Aardsma while with the Mariners in 2009.

But he is also coming off back surgery that put him on the disabled list last year from May 5 to Sept. 28. Between the end of the regular season and the playoffs, he pitched in just five games for the Rangers after being acquired from the Mariners in July. He is healthy this spring but has allowed four runs, three earned, on six hits and two walks over five innings.

"The ball is coming out of his hand free," Washington said. "He's getting on top of it and keeping it down in the zone. That will come. We know what Mark Lowe can do. At least he is healthy and free."

Ogando is inexperienced but is almost right there with Feliz as far as stuff, talent and pure power. Ogando was 4-1 with a 1.30 ERA as a rookie with the Rangers, allowing 31 hits and striking out 39 in 41 2/3 innings over 44 games.

Feliz pitched in 20 games and 31 innings in his first season for the Rangers in 2009. Despite his inexperience, the Rangers were willing to move him into the closer's role midway through April of last season when Frank Francisco struggled early.

The difference, according to Washington, was the Rangers had a backup in Francisco in case Feliz struggled. In fact, the original plan was for Feliz to serve as interim closer until Francisco got his act together. Instead, Feliz just took off as closer and never gave it up.

"It wasn't that easy to move him back to the seventh and eighth inning," Washington said. "But Francisco took a lot of pressure off Feliz. There were a lot of nights where he worked through the heart of the other team's order while Feliz was still getting his feet wet."

Washington said the Rangers will figure out something if they can't acquire a closer. A trade might be difficult unless the Rangers were willing to take on salary. In that case, the Mets might be willing to talk about Francisco Rodriguez, the Dodgers about Jonathan Broxton and the Orioles about Mike Gonzalez. Rodriguez makes $13 million this year, and if he finishes 55 games, he has a $17 million option that automatically invests next season.

In that regard, the Rangers might prefer to take their chances with somebody already in camp.

"We'll make it work," Washington said. "There are some nights we might have two or three guys get us those three outs. We'll do what it takes. But as a manager, it's nice to know you have that one guy who can get you those three outs because he has done it before."

Agonizing over it may end up being for nothing. Feliz might stay right where he is. That may prove the best course of action for a team loaded with rotation candidates and short on closer candidates. But Feliz has pitched nine innings and allowed one run on six hits and four walks. He has struck out nine. That's a pretty good line for a starting pitcher.

"So far what we've seen reinforces our belief that he's capable of starting and potentially at a high level," Daniels said. "We also know he's important to the makeup of the bullpen, on a team that has high expectations. I wish we had two of him."

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.