Set up for success? Pirates' Michael Feliz confident in any role
If Michael Feliz is put in increasingly higher-leverage situations by Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, he insists that won't make him change his approach.
"I am never thinking about what role I'm in. I am just ready when they call me," Feliz said Tuesday. "Just get my body ready to out there and get three people out."
That task could be coming an inning later going forward since Hurdle on Tuesday said veteran George Kontos has been removed from his eighth-inning setup role . Though Hurdle did not commit to a replacement (he said matchups could dictate who pitches the eighth inning when the Pirates have a slim lead), Feliz is the most natural candidate because he is the current seventh-inning man.
"Michael has done a nice job of keeping (opponents) off the plate in the seventh," Hurdle said, "but his pitch efficiency has been something we are monitoring going forward. Could he get the eighth inning? He sure could."
Feliz was part of the package the Pirates got from the Houston Astros in the Gerrit Cole trade. After allowing four runs and not recording an out on opening day, Feliz was scored on in only two of his next 18 appearances. He has 23 strikeouts and has allowed 12 hits in that time.
Michael Feliz since that horrible first outing: 0.60 ERA, 2.89 xFIP, 15 IP, 20:5 K/BB. #Pirates— Tim Williams (@timwilliamsP2) May 9, 2018
"Michael's slider hasn't come into play like we had hoped it would," Hurdle said, "so he is doing a fantastic job with a fastball, locating that and getting people out, all through the lineup and in some big situations."
The negative? Feliz is averaging a staff-high 19.59 pitches per inning. Also, his opponent swinging-strike rate of 9.6 percent is the lowest of any of the Pirates relievers other than Kontos.
But the stuff is there: According to Fangraphs, Feliz's average fastball is 96.2 mph this season. He throws a four-seam fastball more than three-quarters of the time, a slider virtually the rest of it.
Michael Feliz and his nasty stuff throwing in Astros' bullpen.— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) May 25, 2016
Feliz was a piece of the World Series-winning Astros bullpen last season, although he typically pitched in lower-leverage roles.
"It's good, just getting more opportunity (this season). I feel more trust in myself," Feliz said. "I believe in myself and what I can be in the future, like close, or something like that. I feel comfortable right now."
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.