Feliz becoming a force in Astros' bullpen

Feliz becoming a force in Astros' bullpen

HOUSTON -- Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor swung and missed at a slider that bounced well in front of the plate and in the process fell to his knees. It's those kinds of reactions that tell Astros manager A.J. Hinch just how filthy relief pitcher Michael Feliz is throwing lately.

Feliz, pitching in relief of starter Lance McCullers, worked the final three innings of Friday's 2-1 loss to the Rangers and retired all nine batters he faced, striking out six -- all swinging. He fanned the first and last batter in each inning, primarily with his mid-to-upper-90-mph fastball and sharp slider.

"It's nice to see that growing confidence in a young kid that's maturing in front of our eyes," Hinch said. "It's electrifying stuff when he's got a little bounce in his step and he's got a little extra in his fastball and he's running it up there in the mid- to upper-90s. It's something we don't have a ton of and something I'd like to see more of, for sure."

Feliz is the first Astros reliever to throw at least three scoreless innings with at least six strikeouts since Brad Lidge on May 31, 2013, at the Chicago Cubs. He's been scoreless in five of his last six outings. In that span, he has a 0.77 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings.

"His durability is good. His length is good," Hinch said. "I almost wanted to pull him after two to save him for the weekend, but he's also learning how to use his stuff. He's going to find himself in really big innings. His last three or four outings -- the outing in Boston even was good. He had one pitch to David Ortiz to end the game, but really his last four or five outings have been a much different pitcher than he's been in the early parts of his career because his confidence is growing and he believes in his stuff. And the hitters are telling us by their reactions it's not an easy at-bat."

Feliz said he's been working a lot on his slider, which he said will help protect his fastball. Now that he's throwing it for strikes, it's making his fastball better. As far as the reactions of the hitters, specifically Odor for the first out in the ninth inning, Feliz is more focused on the hitters' reactions coming to the plate.

"I'm looking at more at the hitter and what they're looking for rather than afterward," he said. "I'm looking to see how their body language is on different pitches. I knew Odor was looking for a fastball, and that's how I kind of approach it."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.