The Curious Case of Neftali Feliz

As the second half of the season gears up, the Rangers pitching staff is starting to get back to normal. Derek Holland has already returned from the disabled list. Colby Lewis will return for the Oakland series. In the relief corps, Alexi Ogando, Koji Uehara and Mark Lowe are all beginning rehab assignments with Round Rock this weekend. Also on the mend and preparing for a return is Neftali Feliz.

Neftali Feliz

Feliz was the first of the Rangers pitchers to go on the DL, when he was shut down with shoulder soreness in May. With the signing of Roy Oswalt, it was assumed and accepted that the Feliz as a starter experiment was over, with Nefti returning to the pen once he was healthy again. Curious thing, though. When Rangers’ beat writer TR Sullivan reported Feliz was getting ready to begin his rehab stint, he mentioned the Rangers plan was to build him back up as a starter.

This raises all kinds of speculation. Once Lewis returns, the Rangers will have a starting staff of Lewis, Holland, Oswalt, Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish. To what end is this plan to stretch Feliz as a starter? Insurance in case a starter goes down? If so, then Texas has either been singularly unimpressed with Oswalt so far or have a real fear he is not healthy. Either way, that would put a big $5 million investment in jeopardy. Harrison and Darvish have shown no signs of injury and have easily been the Rangers best starters in 2012. Holland just returned from the DL and signed a contract extension in the off-season. Lewis has a degenerative hip condition, but if his health was such an issue, he wouldn’t be activated on Tuesday.

So why stretch Feliz out as a starter when he could easily be put back in the bullpen? My only conclusion is he’s being prepared for a possible trade deadline deal. Not necessarily a deal that would involve Feliz leaving Texas, although that is a possibility. No, it could be a current Rangers starter is being considered as a trade chip. Get rid of one of the current starters in exchange for needed offense, then bring Feliz up to replace him in the rotation. Or stretch Feliz as a starter, then deal spot starter/long reliever Scott Feldman for offense and plug Feliz into Feldman’s role.

If it’s strictly as insurance in case another starter goes down, that would mean Feliz is going to stay down at AAA Round Rock for the foreseeable future. I can’t see the Rangers keeping a proven talent like Feliz down on the farm strictly as an insurance policy. Had it been the start of the season when Feliz was just making the transition to starter, I could have seen that, but not when the pennant race is now heating up.

Feliz rehabbing as a starter? This has to be a sign of something to come.