Rangers relieved to have healthy Feldman

Rangers relieved to have healthy Feldman

Rangers relieved to have healthy Feldman
DETROIT -- The American League playoffs have served noticed. The Rangers' Opening Day starter from 2010 has returned from injury oblivion and is once again a meaningful member of the team's pitching staff.

Scott Feldman's official designation may be just "long reliever," but that does not do justice to the contributions he made in helping the Rangers take a 3-2 lead over the Tigers in the AL Championship Series. It is not a stretch to say that Feldman has been just as important to the Rangers' bullpen during the ALCS as Alexi Ogando or Neftali Feliz.

"Game 2 tells you how big he came up," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "A short start by our starter ... we were still in the game, and he kept us in the game. He got us through the seventh, and we ended up playing 11. He was a big extension of our starter. He was the player of the game."

Feldman pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 2 in relief of Derek Holland. He was also called upon to pitch the 10th inning in Game 4, and put up a zero on the scoreboard. He was rewarded with his first playoff victory when the Rangers scored four in the top of the 11th for a 7-3 victory.

In three playoff appearances, Feldman has pitched 8 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing three hits and no walks while striking out nine. Every playoff team could use that kind of a long reliever. This one just happens to be a 17-game winner from 2009 and Texas' Opening Day starter the following April.

"It has been a lot of fun," Feldman said. "It's cool to be a part of all this. Everybody wants to be in this situation."

Feldman may be the Rangers' "long man," but he was the one manager Ron Washington wanted for the 10th inning on Wednesday. Washington had two experienced late-inning relievers available in the bullpen in Koji Uehara and Michael Gonzalez, but went with Feldman.

"The guy is stepping up," Maddux said. "He's getting outs and doing what he's capable of doing. He's pitching healthy and executing pitches."

He is also reminding people why the Rangers signed him to a two-year, $11.5 million contract extension that runs through next season. Feldman earned the contract after his 17-win season, and this is a start in restoring the faith that the Rangers showed in him.

"Without a doubt," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "When we sign somebody to a multi-year deal, it's not because of statistical performance as much as we believe in the person and his body of work, and we believe in what he can do. Unfortunately he got hurt, but we still know what he's capable of doing."

Feldman was not a part of all this during the last postseason. After starting Opening Day 2010, Feldman was back in the bullpen -- where he began his Major League career -- by the beginning of August. He was 5-9 with a 5.46 ERA, and was officially the guy who lost his job when the Rangers acquired Cliff Lee.

The right-hander's biggest problem was his right knee. The original diagnosis was a bone bruise, and he was placed on the disabled list on Aug 23. He was activated in September, but allowed eight runs on 16 hits and four walks in 12 innings and was not on the postseason roster.

He had surgery in November, and a microfracture was discovered and repaired in the knee. This time, the diagnosis was he would not be ready for Spring Training or Opening Day.

"He pitched with a bad leg last year and never said anything about it," Maddux said. "You can't pitch with your lower half. Now he's able to drive off his back leg, get over his front leg and get the ball down."

The diagnosis was correct about the knee. Feldman was not ready for Spring Training, and he did open the season on the DL. He needed not one but two medical rehabilitation assignments -- a total of 10 outings -- because by mid-May, the knee was still sore and lacking endurance. It wasn't until the All-Star break that Feldman was ready to pitch at the Major League level.

The Rangers did not want that. They wanted to outright Feldman to Triple-A and continue having him pitch as a starter in case there was a need in the Major League rotation. Feldman, who is out of options, declined the assignment. The Rangers had to put him on the big league roster.

"When my rehab assignment was up in Triple-A, I knew I was healthy," Feldman said. "It was just a matter of showing people I was healthy."

Feldman believed he was ready to get Major League hitters out. He also might have had a sense he could get buried and forgotten at Triple-A. That may or may not have been the case, but the Rangers did not need a sixth starter in September. Feldman made two spot starts so Ogando and Matt Harrison could get extra rest, but the Rangers had no other real need for a sixth starter.

Feldman only pitched 11 games in the second half, but he had a 3.94 ERA. His sinker had movement again and his cut fastball was an effective pitch again. Left-handed hitters batted .155 off him. They hit .226 off him in 2009, when the cut fastball became a big pitch against lefties, but .302 last year when he lost the feel for it. His ground ball percentage went up from 54 percent in 2010 to 69.8 this season, a sign that his sinker was working again.

"I think I've shown my stuff is back where I expect it to be," Feldman said. "It's just back to where I don't have to just hope the ball goes somewhere. I can repeat my delivery and keep my stuff going."

The Rangers saw that. There was no doubt about the postseason roster or debate about Feldman's status. The Rangers felt they needed a long reliever, and they have proven to be right. Texas describes Ogando as its "secret" weapon out of the bullpen, but Feldman has been just as potent.

"He has been huge for us," Washington said.

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.