UPDATE 2: Some quick-take thoughts:
On Randy Galloway's radio show this afternoon, Nolan Ryan said this:
"I think if we weren't in such a need for him as a closer, he would be starting for us this year," Ryan said. "I think what it means is that we have a year to find somebody within our system or through trade or a free agent acquisition to come in and take that role. At the end of [this season], we'd like to be in position to tell Feliz to go home this offseason and be ready to be a starter for us next year ... do what you need to do to come into spring training with that mindset and physically being in a position to take that."
1. This is really the only decision the Rangers could have made given their expectation to repeat as AL West champions in this year.
2. Does Feliz have the stuff and makeup to become an ace? Yes. Would he pitch like an ace in his first year as a starter? Not likely, and he would have also probably been limited to somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 innings, with 175 being the outer edge of the envelope. They'd have to be very careful with him.
3. Still, would he be better than Holland, Hunter or Harrison (the 3-4-5 starters)? Assume it's a yes, but one of the better bullpens in baseball suddenly has a huge hole in the back end, and nobody else on the staff has closing experience.
4. Given the makeup of the starters they have now, the Rangers no doubt concluded that the club's best bet was to strengthen the bullpen as much as possible in an effort to turn as many games as possible into 6 or 7 inning affairs. In order for this strategy to work, Ron Washington must be willing to use Feliz -- his best pitcher -- in high leverage situations that aren't necessarily save situations and he must be willing to use him for more than one inning from time to time. If you only use Feliz in the 9th with a lead, you're not getting the most bang for the buck. The turning point in a game might very well be in the 7th or 8th, say with the score tied or a hanging on to a 1-run lead. Your opponent has the go-ahead runner at second and you've got a guy in the bullpen with a triple-digit fastball that jumps all over hitters like the Tijuana clap. Why wait?
UPDATE (4:20 pm) -- Who says things in baseball move at a slower pace? The Rangers announce their decision on the starting rotation prior to the start of a split squad game against the Reds. Tommy Hunter just left that game in the 3rd inning with a strained right groin. Don't know if this will affect the Feliz decision, but my guess is no.
The Rangers just announnced that Neftali Feliz will return to the bullpen and the closer's role for the 2011 season.
Starting rotation will be: CJ Wilson (1), Colby Lewis (2), followed by Tommy Hunter, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison with the order of those three TBD.
Beyond Feliz (R), bullpen locks are Alexi Ogando (R), Darren Oliver (L), Arthur Rhodes (L) and Darren O'Day (R) with a middle and long man still TBD. Competitors for the middle slot are presumably Mark Lowe (R) and Pedro Strop (R) while the long slot is coming down to either Brett Tomko (R) or Mason Tobin (R).
Working on a post now, will update this shortly.