This has not been an easy ride for Scott Feldman. I know your first inclination in response to reading that line is to scrunch up your eyes and mockingly wipe away the false tears, but hear me out here. Yeah, he's going to bank a guaranteed sum of at least $11.5 million from his present (oversized) contract and have great difficulty in delivering the kind of performance needed for him to meet the expectations attached to that deal, but don't fall into the trap of assuming that he cares primarily about the money, and little about how well he acquits himself on the mound and how much of positive value he contributes to the Rangers' efforts.
"It was good to contribute," Feldman said. "It's been a while since I felt like I really contributed around here. That's always a good feeling. Pitching in blowout games versus something like this is a little bit of a better feeling. I feel like I did what I was supposed to do. I was sort of disappointed with the way everything worked for me last year and being hurt this year. It's just a good feeling to get out there and feel like you contributed." (ESPNDallas.com)
Around this time two years ago, ESPN.com's Keith Law cited the assessment of a scout who declared that Feldman -- on his way at the time to a solid 189.2-inning, 3.3-win campaign that functioned as one of the catalysts for his multi-year extension -- boasted "three above-average pitches," including a "filthy" cut fastball that ended up grading out as the most valuable cutter in baseball during the 2009 season, at +23.7 runs above average. His numbers on the season didn't reflect any particular strength in terms of those factors known to be within his control, as his strikeout rate was still teetering on the low end of the viability scale, and his walk and strikeout rates were good, but not great ... and yet, the total package was solid enough -- and the Rangers' confidence in Feldman being a meaningful piece of the puzzle going forward strong enough -- to justify buying out the remainder of his arbitration-eligible years, in the ballclub's view.
Except, it didn't work out. It didn't work out the way the Rangers expected, and it certainly didn't work out the way Feldman expected. He was granted the honor of being the Rangers' Opening Day starting pitcher last season, and it took less than a month for things to begin to go awry. He was working with an inherently thin margin for error to begin with, and once he lost his feel for the bread-and-butter cut fastball that was so essential to his newfound success (the pitch regressed in terms of both command and velocity), he almost immediately fell from his previous mid-rotation standing down to a borderline back-end starter. Things got bad enough that he was relegated to the bullpen in late July in favor of Rich Harden (of all people), and then went from bad to worse when knee problems cropped up that ultimately necessitated off-season microfracture surgery.
And then, after a protracted course of rehabilitation that involved several setbacks and a series of trials and tribulations down at Triple-A Round Rock, Feldman was finally activated -- but not by the Rangers' choice so much as his own, as he rejected the ballclub's plan to have him outrighted from the 40-man roster and stretched out as an emergency starter at Round Rock, and instead invoked the five-years-of-service-time clause to reject the Rangers' assignment and force his immediate activation from the disabled list to the active roster. The immediate roster casualty of Feldman's decision ended up being Darren O'Day instead of Yoshinori Tateyama (the latter of whom I feared would get the ax initially), but you might say that I didn't exactly roll out "Welcome Back, Scott" mat to celebrate his return.
"I'm sure he's fired up," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "That was great to see. He has been through a lot -- a lot of ups and downs -- and I know he's excited about it. He knows he's a starter." (MLB.com)
So, last night, after being granted an extended chance to prove himself useful in a series of low-leverage outings (and acquitting himself well on the whole in those outings), Feldman was summoned into action as a spot starter in place of Matt Harrison ... and was disgustingly good in the process, on a night when the Rangers mustered little with the bats and needed a showing of that caliber to avoid losing any ground to the still-charging Angels. He was so good that he accomplished something he had never accomplished before in the process, and was so good that he proved more valuable to the Rangers' winning effort on the win probability scale (+.364) than he had in any outing in more than two years. It seems that Texas did need Scott Feldman, after all.
Over 78 previous starts at the major league level, Feldman's best ground-to-fly ball ratio in any one start had been a robust 17-to-5 showing against the Mariners back on May 14th, 2008 -- a start in which he allowed just one earned run over seven innings, but still took the "hard luck" 4-3 loss. Last night? According to the same data source (Baseball Info Solutions), Feldman posted up a career-best 13 ground balls to zero fly balls during a start in which he tossed six innings of two-hit, no-run baseball, and punched out four Rays while walking only one.
What's more, only two out of the 19 at-bats logged by the Rays against Feldman last night ended with a "well-hit ball"; to phrase that another way, Feldman avoided hits like the plague, but primarily because of his ability to induce weakly hit balls all night long as opposed to being repeatedly bailed out by his defense. I'm not sure how much of that can be attributed to the supposed BABIP-suppressing properties of the cut fastball (which Feldman appeared to be throwing quite well last night), but his success last night was clearly not a function of pure luck.
It's not clear if or when he'll get another shot at starting a game, as Ron Washington had previously stated that this was a "one-and-done" affair for Feldman, and has since modified his wording to suggest that if another spot-starting opportunity arises, Feldman will be the go-to guy. That part is unclear, but if Feldman can assemble a few more starts that are even reasonable facsimiles of what he put together last night, then this is a golden opportunity to deploy him in place of Alexi Ogando and perhaps Colby Lewis and/or Derek Holland before the regular season's done, without having to harbor considerable fear of him dragging down the Rangers' post-season odds in the process.
At the risk of sounding even remotely ungrateful, it's about time.
"He was outstanding," Washington said. "We certainly needed that. He had good movement on his pitches and kept the ball down in the zone. Feldman is the most rested pitcher we have. If there is an opportunity for us to need another starter again, he'll be the guy." (MLB.com)
[Yes, I'm poking fun at my 'Cy Ogando' post from a couple of months ago with this post title. In no way, shape, or form am I suggesting that Feldman should win any post-season hardware. I'm sure somebody would give me hell for it if I didn't include this disclaimer.]