Feliz's role for 2010 season up in the air

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Neftali Feliz is expected to be on the Texas Rangers' pitching staff this season. What his role will be is still in question.

"You take a look at his stuff and he definitely has the stuff to get you out four times," pitching coach Mike Maddux said Saturday. "There's going to have to be a time when we put our heads together and decide which way we have to go."

The 21-year-old Feliz was mainly a starter in the minors before being called up to the Texas bullpen last August. The right-hander struck out four of his first six batters and finished 1-0 with a 1.74 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 31 innings.

"When he joined us we saw lightning in a bottle," Maddux said. "What did we learn? That it wasn't an accident."

And in many ways, that has created a dilemma for the Rangers similar to the debate in New York over Yankees right-hander Joba Chamberlain. Should the Rangers have Feliz start, as he has done throughout his minor league career, or are they better off with his power fastball in the bullpen?

Feliz, the team's top-rated prospect, is clear on his preference.

"I think I would be a better starter than reliever in the long run," Feliz said through a translator. "I'm confident. I feel like I can do better as a starter. I get a lot of questions about it and I tell them that it's up to the team to decide."

Feliz was shuffled between the rotation and bullpen for Triple-A Oklahoma City of the Pacific Coast League, going 4-6 in 25 games — 13 starts — with 75 strikeouts in 77 1-3 innings.

This spring, mastering the command and location of his pitches is one of Feliz's primary goals.

"If I can keep the ball down I'm confident I can be successful," he said.

Maddux and Rangers manager Ron Washington both said they want to see Feliz develop his changeup and curveball to be as consistent and effective as his fastball.

"If the fastball is all he has, the boys at the big league level will figure him out," Washington said.

Washington said Feliz's future is as a starter. But consistent with the team's mantra this season of making decisions based on what the club needs most to win, a rotation spot isn't guaranteed.

"All the guy's done all his career is start and we want to make sure we use his assets," Washington said. "But he's not going to be given anything. By the middle of spring training we'll determine whether his spot is in the bullpen or in the rotation."

Whatever the decision in the spring, it might not be the final decision on the talented righty.

"Roles change," Maddux said. "Your role today may not be your role tomorrow, next year or next month."

As for being in position to have to make such a decision, Maddux said: "It's a luxury."