Feliz hopes two-inning stint sparks turnaround

Feliz hopes two-inning stint sparks turnaround

MILWAUKEE -- Was Tuesday's multi-inning outing just the thing erstwhile Brewers closer Neftali Feliz needed to turn his season around? The Brewers, riding atop the National League Central in spite of Feliz's struggles at the back end of the bullpen, hope it represents a start.

Feliz was sharp while working two clean innings at the end of a 4-3 loss to Toronto, striking out a pair of batters and carving through six outs on 27 pitches. His 16 fastballs averaged 97.2 mph, Feliz's best velocity in his past six outings dating back to May 6, a week before the Brewers backed him out of the closer role.

"He threw the ball well. That was good," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. "Part of it was I was trying to get him back out there for another inning. I think that helps guys sometimes, when you go back out there after you've had a good inning. You can go back out there and kind of cement that.

"Hopefully, this is part of getting him on the right track and getting him going."

Feliz, removed from the closer role after a loss to the Red Sox on May 12, spent the past two weeks watching video of outings from last season with the Pirates and working with bullpen coach Lee Tunnell on a series of minor mechanical adjustments. The aim, he said, is staying on top of the baseball during his delivery.

That fix should lead to more quality strikes, said Feliz, who lost his grip on closer duties due to a toxic combination of walks (nine) and home runs (five) in his first 16 innings.

"Mostly the trust, Counsell trusted me to go back out there and get three more outs and build my confidence up," Feliz said through translator Carlos Brizuela. "I'm trying to get back to it, to help my team win."

If Feliz can regain Counsell's confidence in high-leverage situations, the Brewers will face an intriguing decision. Performance will be most important factor, especially if the team hangs on at or near the top of the division standings, but there is also a financial component in play.

Corey Knebel, who has mostly covered save situations since Feliz took a step back, will be arbitration-eligible this offseason as a Super Two player, and saves are one of the counting stats baked into the formula for setting such players' salaries. Feliz, meanwhile, is on a one-year deal, and he will be a free agent again at season's end.

"Right now, my mentality is not to get back to being the closer," Feliz said. "My mentality is to stay positive, be aggressive and help the team win. It doesn't matter where they put me in. As long as I'm getting outs, that's all that matters."

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.