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Neftali Feliz Likely Headed Back To Bullpen

Neftali Feliz will head back to the bullpen once he is activated off the disabled list.

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It looks like Neftali Feliz' role is changing yet again.

After saving 40 games for the Rangers in 2010, Neftali Feliz earned the American League Rookie of the Year award. Feliz was dominant, striking out 71 in 69.1 innings, walking just 18 batters.

Last spring, the Rangers flirted with the idea of putting him in the starting rotation, but opted to keep Feliz in the bullpen. Feliz' numbers were a bit down last year; his WIHP rose from .88 to 1.16, and K/9 dropped from 9.22 to 7.80, while his BB/9 rose from 2.34 to 4.33. It's also important to note that Feliz spent time on the disabled list last year because of right shoulder inflammation.

Obviously, the Rangers converted Feliz from closer to starter this year. Once again in the spring, Feliz felt shoulder discomfort. Feliz is currently shelved on the DL -- but not because of a balky shoulder, but because of a sprained UCL.

When Feliz returns from the disabled list, likely sometime after the All-Star break, it looks like he'll find himself back in the bullpen. Per Gerry Fraley, Feliz met with assistant general manager Thad Levine and Ron Washington to discuss a plan for the injured righty.

Feliz, speaking through an interpreter, said he still considers himself a starter, but he is likely to return to the bullpen when healthy.

"I hope he's been around long enough and matured enough to understand that all teams are trying to get better," Washington said. "We're not doing anything differently than anyone else."

Feliz stayed with the party line.

"My mentality now is to get healthy and get ready and help the team," Feliz said.

After Roy Oswalt signed with the Rangers on Tuesday, this looked like a pretty obvious scenario. Feliz will fortify an already excellent bullpen, which now features Joe Nathan as the dominant closer. It's certainly a small sample size, but through 21.2 innings, Nathan has allowed just 19 base runners (17 hits, two walks) and has struck out 26.

Still, you have to feel for Feliz a bit. Once the Rookie of the Year and one of the premiere closers in baseball, Feliz now finds himself with an undefined role on the best team in baseball... and he finds himself with an arm that appears that it could be headed toward a major injury -- it's quite the red flag that Feliz has sprained his UCL after having shoulder problems.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.