Yeah, no words. Well, maybe just a few. I had a feeling soon after the Mike Adams trade was finalized that it wouldn't take too terribly long before another tour of "Should Neftali Feliz Lose His Closing Gig?" Mystery Theater commenced, and it now appears that we've arrived at that point just one week after Adams' arrival, with another ninth-inning implosion by Feliz last night rendering Texas winless and forcing Ron Washington to offer up another vote of confidence: "My confidence is still high, it never wavered. I don’t think [the Indians] lost confidence in their closer last night. They brought him back out there. As long as he spreads [the blown saves] out, I'm good with it. I hope he [doesn't] blow any, but as long as he continues to spread them out. It just didn't happen tonight."
The underlying problems were neither remarkable nor anything we haven't already seen before: deficient fastball command and the lack of an effective breaking ball that he could comfortably wield against opposing hitters, all of which led to an abundance of strikes last night (as Washington pointed out during his post-game attempts to put some kind of positive spin on it), but a paucity of quality strikes. We've seen this over and over again this season, we've attempted to make some kind of sense of it and diagnose the source of his ineffectiveness each time that it has blown up in the Rangers' faces, and we still haven't solved the riddle. Worst, it may not be solved yet this season, in which case the fallacy of the "six-inning game" theory should soon become readily apparent to its proponents.
And along the way, we've speculated on just about every possible reason for the deterioriation in Feliz's performance this season -- from injury to fatigue/overuse to a "lack of fire" to shoddy mechanics to a poor mental approach, and probably another half-dozen reasons that I can't recall right off the top of my head. The fatigue thing is the one I'd especially like to zero in on in brief this morning, as there's been considerable crowing about Feliz blowing last night's game after having already pitched in each of the previous two games, and how that may well constitute a short-sighted and/or irresponsible approach to bullpen management by Ron Washington and Mike Maddux.
Now, obviously, there's the question of whether Texas should have stuck with Koji Uehara after his perfect eighth inning, as a means of buying Feliz a good 48 hours of rest, minimizing the whole "using more relievers increases the likelihood that one of them will pitch badly" risk component, and riding the hot and effective hand already in the game. These are all good reasons, and I won't begrudge a hearty debate on this front, but I don't think there was even any debate on whether to go to Feliz between Washington and Maddux -- and, to take that one step further, I don't think there are more than perhaps 2-3 managers in the majors who would have left their closer sitting on the sidelines there, given the context of the situation. Baseball people are fairly rigid on this sort of thing.
That all leads into the other, more significant question: was/is pitching Feliz three days in a row a huge mistake, to the extent that any and all preexisting fatigue compromised his performance in the third game? If you based your answer solely on the results of last night's game and dug no deeper, the prevailing response would probably be 'yes' ... but how about we rewind to the other occasions during Feliz's three-year major league career where he pitched after having pitched two other times in the preceding 48 hours:
06/17/10 at FLA: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 K, 0 BB, 0 HR, 17 pitches
08/24/10 vs. MIN: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 K, 0 BB, 0 HR, 12 pitches
04/05/11 vs. SEA: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 K, 0 BB, 0 HR, 13 pitches *
07/17/11 at SEA: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 K, 0 BB, 0 HR, 17 pitches
08/06/11 vs. CLE: 0.2 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 0 K, 0 BB, 0 HR, 25 pitches
[* Went on the disabled list on 04/20/11 with right shoulder inflammation]
So, Feliz has made five career appearances where he was in a back-to-back-to-back situation, and in that span, he has allowed three earned runs on just three hits and no walks against four strikeouts in 4.2 innings. We have four great performances, a vague potential link between his three consecutive appearances in April of this season and his ensuing disabled-list assignment (rendered even more vague by the two-week gap between the outing and him being shut down), and the atrocity of last night. Meanwhile, several of Feliz's nastiest implosions this season have come down even with the benefit of at least one day of rest, and, in some cases, more than one day of rest.
I don't want to entirely write off fatigue and/or overuse as being a factor in some way, as we don't have a very firm grasp on what ails Feliz in the first place ... but when I step back and look at the bigger picture, I see a frustrated closer whose game-to-game performance doesn't appear to meaningfully correlate with the number of days of rest he pitches on. He's had his great moments on minimal rest and his horrible moments on full rest, and vice versa. And when you look at it from that perspective, it becomes far more difficult to establish a definitive link between his greatest underlying deficiencies -- again, the fastball command and the breaking ball -- and his usage pattern.
And if you want to switch Feliz and Adams around so that the latter is closing games while the former is relegated to more of a seventh- or eighth-inning role, well, you can do that, and maybe the Rangers will still do that -- but do bear in mind that higher-leverage situations come to pass in those innings with great regularity, and that Feliz could, in spite of such a (hypothetical) demotion, still inflict just as much damage to the Rangers' chances of winning as a setup man if he proves incapable of overcoming whatever has troubled him since practically the first day of the season.