BY: Richard W. Humphrey
Monday afternoon, the Twitter-verse exploded with the news that Neftali Feliz would be placed on the disabled list, replaced on the roster by Yoshinori Tateyama; and replaced, at least for the moment, in the rotation by Scott Feldman, who will start Wednesday afternoon’s finale of the current three game series in Seattle with the Mariners. Last year, no member of the original starting five coming out of spring training ever went on the disabled list. That five collectively started 157 of the 162 regular season games. (Dave Bush made three starts and Feldman made two.) It wasn’t likely that such good health would hold for the entire 2012 season again, and it didn’t.
Feliz has inflammation in his right (throwing) elbow, described as similar to a sprain. He will medicate and rehab. Monday night, GM Jon Daniels said Feliz would be shut down from throwing for at least four weeks, when he’ll be re-evaluated. The shutdown is likely to extend to as much as six weeks, and with at least a couple of weeks for baseball activities after he is cleared to throw, he likely will not be back on the Rangers’ active roster until around the All-Star break.
As for where the Rangers go from here to fill the fifth starting spot in the rotation, Feldman gets Wednesday’s start, but there are no guarantees that he’s now a fixture in the starting rotation, though practically speaking, he likely gets at least two or three starts. However, the next time Feliz’s spot in the rotation comes up after Wednesday is next Tuesday night, and the starter for that game is officially “TBA”.
The Rangers top two pitching prospects at AAA are struggling, and neither is considered an option at this time. Martin Perez is 3-4, 5.72 in nine starts, while Neil Ramirez is 4-4, 6.75, also in nine starts. Disappointing to say the least. Barret Loux and Justin Grimm are having break through seasons at AA Frisco, but they are not likely to be jumping two levels to the majors.
The two most likely candidates if Feldman doesn’t work out had the following seasons in 2011:
Pitcher No. 1: 13-8, 3.51 in 31 appearances. and he made the All-Star team.
Pitcher No. 2: 9-10, 3.69 in 23 appearances, limited to 23 outings because of injury issues.
The likelihood if Feldman does not hold the spot is that the Rangers will go for pitcher number two above. That’s Roy Oswalt, currently unsigned and working out in Mississippi, who threw for Ranger scouts in recent days. ESPN radio announcer Bryan Dolgin (103.3 FM in Dallas) said Monday night that he felt it was almost a certainty that the Rangers would sign Oswalt, and Joe Trahan agreed. Tuesday morning, the Dallas Morning News’ Evan Grant indicated he thought it was unlikely that the Rangers would sign Oswalt, as the team is already over its salary budget and adding Oswalt would add at least $4-$5 million. He thinks the Rangers prefer to save the salary capacity for an addition later in the season. On the other hand, the budget may be less of a question than Grant indicates as the Rangers have official sellouts for 12 of 20 home games played to date, and have three more sellouts coming this weekend when they return from the current road trip to play Toronto.
So fans can take their pick of opinions as to whether Oswalt will be in a Ranger uniform soon. In any event, if he were signed immediately, he would need a minimum of three minor league re-hab starts to get stretched out enough to start for the Rangers, so his ETA in Arlington is a minimum of two weeks away from when he signs. Undoubtedly, Oswalt is manager Ron Washington’s first choice, as Washington invariably prefers a veteran.
Pitcher number one is Alexi Ogando. There are teams around the majors that are still scratching their heads over the Rangers’ decision to take Ogando out of the rotation after the year he had in 2011, especially since the team began the season with two starters that had never started a major league game. Even Daniels said late in spring training that Ogando deserved to be in the starting rotation.
Ogando was utilized in a starter’s capacity in spring training, but almost seven weeks into the season, he no longer has the stamina to be able to throw six innings as a starter, and like Oswalt will need some sort of work to re-build that stamina. The major hesitancy with Ogando is his value in the bullpen. He is so versatile and has such good stuff, that he would leave a hole in the pen if he joined the rotation; and that is a hole Washington does not wish to manage around.
Actually, a third option could be Robbie Ross, who was always a starter in the minor leagues, and has from time to time been utilized for multiple innings out of the bullpen, such that getting stretched out to start may not take too long. One such game was last Friday’s in Houston in which he threw 2-1/3rd relief innings and earned his sixth win of the year. However, Ross is the only left-hander in the Ranger bullpen and his move to the rotation, like Ogando’s would leave a hole. Nolan Ryan was on with Randy Galloway at ESPN’s 103.3 FM radio show Monday afternoon, and said he didn’t view Ross as a viable option.
In any event, the injury has caused a re-thinking of Feliz’s future. There apparently are no guarantees that he will be re-inserted into the starting rotation once he returns to the active roster. Reading between the lines, you get the impression that the Rangers are disappointed in Feliz’s progress (or lack thereof) as a starting pitcher. And if he’s not part of the rotation, his old job as closer is most likely not an option either. Joe Nathan is back from Tommy John surgery and throwing well. Last week alone, he threw on four consecutive days, and was very effective on the fourth day, recording his ninth save. Not only is the Rangers’ starting rotation up in the air with this injury, but Feliz’s future role with the team is up in the air too.
Actually, most teams struggle to find a reasonable fifth starter, and are fortunate to have four that match the quality of the Rangers’ other four. Also, Jon Daniels has proven to be creative and resourceful in this situations in the past. Ranger fans can take comfort that while this injury is unfortunate, it is not a crippling blow to the team.
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