Rested Feliz firing heat after 'red-lining' in April

Reliever hasn't allowed a run in May as Pirates scale back workload

Rested Feliz firing heat after 'red-lining' in April

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates closely monitor their players' workloads and rest patterns, and manager Clint Hurdle is as careful as anyone about keeping his relievers fresh. So when Hurdle picked up the phone and called for Neftali Feliz 14 times over Pittsburgh's first 24 games, he knew that was too much.

"There was a point where it was past red-lining him," Hurdle said. "That's way over what he needs to be doing, so we tried to back away."

The Pirates have taken their foot off the pedal this month, and Feliz has provided the gas in return. The Pirates' 5-4 win over the D-backs on Wednesday night was Feliz's sixth appearance in May and arguably the strongest he's looked all season, pumping 98- and 99-mph fastballs past the D-backs in a scoreless eighth inning.

"I felt super great," Feliz said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "Just making sure that I go up to that mound ready to dominate, and that's exactly what I did."

Feliz's average fastball Wednesday night clocked in at 97.8 mph, according to Pitch F/x data, his highest mark of the season. He gave up a leadoff single to Rickie Weeks Jr., struck out Paul Goldschmidt and induced a line-drive double play to end the inning.

"He was throwing lightning bolts out there," reliever Jared Hughes said. "That was awesome."

Feliz's velocity was back to 94-96 mph in Thursday's 8-3 win, but he pitched a perfect eighth inning with a little help from Pirates outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco.

Polanco's grab in foul territory

Signed as a free agent this offseason, Feliz has put together a 3.24 ERA with 21 strikeouts and only three walks in 16 2/3 innings over 21 appearances. He mostly pitched well in April, even if Hurdle felt he was overused and a 4.91 ERA didn't fully represent his stronger peripheral statistics.

Extrapolated over a six-month season, Feliz's heavy April workload put him on pace for 84 appearances. Over the last three years, only one reliever each season has reached the 80-appearance mark, and nobody has thrown more than 81 since Jonny Venters in 2011.

So Hurdle looked for chances to rest Feliz. There have been a few games where Hurdle thought about turning to him, but the Pirates' starter pitched seven innings. The end result? Feliz has had separate breaks of five, six and seven days between outings at various points this month.

"I'm ready to pitch whenever they need me," Feliz said. "To be honest with you, the more that they put me in to pitch, the better I produce."

Yet there was Feliz on Wednesday night, well-rested and firing fastballs past hitters.

"Yeah, that's part of the game that you go, 'Aha!'" Hurdle said. "That's what we had drawn up in the dirt, and now it looks like it's in concrete. We'll maybe revisit it again with somebody else.

"We were able to back him down. It's new for new guys because it's probably not their norm for how they've been used before. He's working with us on it. He's a big, strong man, and he's been a very good addition to that bullpen."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.