Feliz in Brewers camp, ready to challenge for closer’s role
PHOENIX (AP) After sorting out work visa issues in his native Dominican Republic, the Brewers’ Neftali Feliz arrived at Monday morning, ready to get to work with his new team.
Feliz enters camp as Milwaukee’s leading candidate to be the closer after the team parted ways with Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith at the deadline last season, and with Tyler Thornburg during the winter.
”It was a little inconvenient,” Feliz said through team interpreter Carlos Brizuela, of his delay. ”But fortunately, we got it taken care of, and now I’m here. I’m ready to get to work and ready to win.”
The 28-year-old Feliz has 99 saves in his eight-year career, including 72 in 2010-11 for the Rangers, who went to the World Series both seasons.
Manager Craig Counsell wasn’t ready to formally declare Feliz as his ninth-inning guy.
”Neftali is going to get really important outs for us,” Counsell said. ”That’s what we signed him to do.”
It was the ninth-inning experience on a postseason team that made Feliz Milwaukee’s prime target in a somewhat crowded market for late-inning relievers this offseason.
”He’s got a track record,” Counsell said. ”What we saw last year was him getting back to the player that broke into the big leagues and was really a dynamic arm and reliever, and capable of great things.”
Once a fireballer with a fastball that hit 100 mph, Feliz struggled with confidence after blowing a save in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. Texas tried to convert him into a starter the next season, but he blew out his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery later that year, then missed the entire 2013 season.
From there, it’s been a long road back. He had a 6.38 ERA in 18 games before Texas designated him for assignment, then struggled further in 30 games for Detroit, where he was 2-2 with a 7.62 ERA.
But with the Pirates last season, Feliz appeared to return to form. He went 4-2 with a 3.52 ERA in 62 games, missing the final month of the season with soreness in his right arm.
”We felt last year he got back to the form that he had early in his career,” Counsell said. ”He fought through some injuries. It affected him for a while, but the guy we saw last year was the guy that’s been a dominant reliever.”
With the Brewers, Feliz will experience rebuilding for the first time. Milwaukee’s roster is laden with youngsters eager to make a mark. Feliz is looking forward to helping mentor that talent as those youngsters grow into big league players.
”There are really good players here,” Feliz said. ”You go out there to win every game, play hard and try to help these guys win as many games as we can.”
Feliz was signed to a one-year, $5.35 million contract with the ability to earn another $1.5 million in incentives, making him a potential trade deadline candidate should he get off to a good start.
NOTES: Right-handers Wily Peralta and Jorge Lopez will be the first Brewers pitchers to throw live batting practice in camp. Both pitchers are slated to appear in the World Baseball Classic, so their schedules are slightly advanced.
Counsell said the rest of his pitching staff will start throwing to live batters on Wednesday.