MILWAUKEE -- Less than six weeks into his tenure as Brewers closer, Neftali Feliz has lost command of the role.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Friday afternoon that he was removing the struggling Feliz from the ninth inning for an indefinite period of time and would pitch him in less-pressured situations until Feliz finds a fix. Counsell intends to use a mixture of other relief pitchers in save situations until a new bullpen order emerges.
The decision came a day after Feliz surrendered a tiebreaking three-run home run to Boston's Mookie Betts in the ninth inning of the Brewers' 4-1 loss to the Red Sox at Miller Park. It was another example of the combination of walks and home runs burning Feliz, who has surrendered six homers and nine walks in 16 innings. His ERA is a team-worst 6.19.
"I think ultimately, my goal is to get him to the back end of the bullpen again, but we've got to get him pitching better," Counsell said. "So we'll take a while, hopefully get him right, work on some things and get him going, confidence-wise, to get some outs."
Feliz, who won the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year Award and served as the Rangers' closer in two World Series, signed a one-year deal with the Brewers in January for $5.35 million plus $1.5 million in incentives. He was coming off a quality season as a setup man for the Pirates, in which he struck out 2.9 batters for every walk.
So far this season, that ratio is 1.44 strikeouts per walk.
"I think we see a pitcher who, in certain spots, in getting himself behind in the count, and he becomes a little more predictable as a pitcher at that point," said Brewers GM David Stearns. "Neftali is a veteran. He's pitched on the biggest stages in the biggest types of games. He's been through periods like this before in his career. We'll find spots for him to get some success and go from there."
The obvious candidate to take over as closer is right-hander Corey Knebel, who has at least one strikeout in all 19 of his appearances this season and has a team-best 1.00 WHIP. But Knebel was unavailable Friday after throwing 41 pitches to record four high-leverage outs in Thursday's loss, and Counsell said he preferred to continue being flexible with Knebel rather than tie him to conventional closer usage.
"I'm sure that at this point it may mean him pitching in the ninth inning some," Counsell said. "But the ability to use him in the seventh inning at times, I think that's important. And I think there are times in the game where it dictates that.
"The goal is 27 outs. I don't care what order they come in. The ability with Corey to be flexible is the best way to do it. But no matter what, this requires some other guys to step up and pitch in some big spots."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.