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Feliz makes Rangers happy at Futures Game

Feliz makes Rangers happy at Futures Game

ST. LOUIS -- The Rangers were told earlier in the week that Neftali Feliz had a good chance of starting for the World Team in Sunday's Futures Game in St. Louis.

Technically, that wasn't the case. Instead, Japan's Junichi Tazawa was given the starting assignment with Feliz working out of the bullpen.

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Turns out the World Team -- just like the Rangers -- had mixed feelings on just exactly how to use the 21-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic. But -- just like the Rangers -- they were eager to find a spot for him.

In the end, Feliz actually both started and relieved on a in the World's rain-shortened 7-5 victory Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium.

Tazawa was listed as the World starter, but never got to the mound. He warmed up in the top of the first, but that was before the game was delayed for four hours, nine minutes by rain. When play finally resumed at the beginning of the bottom of the first, Feliz was pitching for the World as its "starter," though it was technically a relief appearance.

Either way, Feliz was pretty dazzling in his one inning of work, relying almost completely on his overpowering fastball. He struck out Eric Young Jr. (son of the former Ranger) and Desmond Jennings to start the inning, and both strike-three pitches were clocked at 100 mph.

Feliz then walked Brett Wallace on a 10-pitch at-bat before he ended his afternoon by snagging Chris Carter's line drive back to the mound. You can call him a starter, you can call him a reliever, but he was still quite impressive. Now it's back to the Triple-A Oklahoma RedHawks, where he is trying to make the transition from starter to reliever and possibly become an imminent candidate for the Rangers bullpen.

"I've found out there's a big difference between starting and relieving," Feliz said before his one inning of work. "In the bullpen, you go out there for 1-2 innings and just go full bore. You don't have to hold anything back. As a starter, you may be going 5-6 innings. You have to hold back, throw all your pitches, think about situations, really work hitters."

Either way appears to be fine for him. The goal is to get to the big leagues as quickly as possible, and the Rangers right now think that might now be as reliever. Feliz started the season with Triple-A Oklahoma as a starter, but was moved to the bullpen a few weeks ago. Texas anticipates that relief help might be a need at the big league level in the second half of the season and wanted to begin preparing Feliz for it.

"We feel he's got a chance to be a starter down the road, but was more likely to help us this year out of the 'pen based on where he is overall in his development," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "He's still just 21. If he can have success in this role, we've addressed a need internally, and he'll be able to get innings to work as a starter this winter and again starting next spring.  It's easy to look at him, see the velocity and arm slot and say reliever, but we're not going to give up on him starting down the line."

Feliz has made six appearances as a reliever for the RedHawks before coming to St. Louis. In 8 2/3 innings, he allowed one run on four hits and one walk with nine strikeouts. As a starter, he was 3-5 with a 3.86 ERA in 60 2/3 innings, allowing 59 hits, 27 walks and 55 strikeouts.

Some who have watched him out of the bullpen say Feliz is able to rely on his overpowering fastball much more than when pitching as a starter. That accounts for the increase in strikeouts and decrease in walks per nine innings. Feliz threw 22 pitches on Sunday that included two curves and three changeups. Everything else was 97-100 mph, though he hit 101 on one pitch to Wallace.

The Rangers still recognize that Feliz needs to work on both his curveball and his changeup before he is Major League-ready as a starter. But a player with a fastball that hits 100 mph while being thrown from the stretch and in a steady drizzle on Sunday could be ready right now for a Major League bullpen.

"Actually," Feliz said with a smile. "I've thrown 102-103 mph before."

As for the curveball and changeup, Feliz said: "They're much better. I'm just working on all my pitches and trying to get confidence in all my pitches. When the Rangers call me up, that's not my decision."

If his curveball and changeup catch up to the fastball that was on display Sunday, Feliz could be devastating in any role.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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