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« Bard's First Start Better Than it Looks | Main | Chris Sale's First Start »

Found: Neftali Feliz's Changeup

Neftali Feliz's career as a big league starting pitcher got off to a great start last night. The Rangers' former closer tossed seven shutout innings against the Seattle Mariners, giving up four hits, striking out four and walking two.

A starter in the Atlanta and Texas systems before moving to the 'pen in 2009, Feliz bested batters as a reliever with brute force. He unleashed his mid-to-upper-90s fastball nearly 80% of the time, occasionally breaking off a low-80s slider or very rarely an upper-80s changeup. Feliz retained his velocity well last night, averaging 94.1 mph. But, as ESPNDallas' Richard Durrett notes, Feliz relied heavily on his secondary stuff:

He threw a steady diet of fastballs early and established it, then -- when the lineup came up a second time -- Napoli had Feliz throw more off-speed stuff. Feliz's slider was in the low 80 mph range and the changeup was anywhere from 84 to 88 mph. Feliz said he can alter the speed on his changeup by a few miles per hour by tweaking his grip, something he worked on in Surprise, Ariz., this spring.

"I noticed his changeup was on," Napoli said. "We were going with it, and it was a good pitch for him tonight. That can change from night to night. That's what you've got to do as a starter. You can't just go out and throw fastballs every single time through the lineup. You've got to be able to mix it up, and he did that."

Feliz certainly did mix it up. He threw his fastball just 51% of the time, going to his slider 26% and his changeup 23%. As a reliever, he threw his changeup four only four percent of the time. Feliz's slider wasn't especially sharp, with 32% crossing the plate and the M's mostly laying off the pitch. But, facing a lineup with seven left-handed hitters, Feliz peppered the zone with his changeup:

Feliz's changeup location vs. Seattle, 4/10/12

Seventy-two percent of Feliz's changeups were in the zone, compared to 46% during his closer days. Seattle went a collective 1-for-8 against the change, with Chone Figgins and Miguel Olivo punching out on the pitch. Feliz's changeup had an 8-9 mph differential from his fastball. It complemented his heater, which sat high in the zone:

Feliz's fastball location vs. Seattle, 4/10/12

It was just one start against an admittedly light-hitting lineup. Still, it's encouraging that Feliz varied his pitch selection, dusted off his changeup and showed quality control of the offering. Flinging fastballs four-fifths of the time might work in short stints, but not while facing the same hitters two or three times. Feliz already seems well aware of that, which should limit his growing pains as a starter.

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