Ricescapades: The Neftali Feliz Injury and a Fantasy Manager's Nightmare

Neftali Feliz's recent elbow injury has his fantasy owners screaming along with him. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

When Neftali Feliz went down with an injury earlier this week, it struck a particularly somber chord with me. I own him in a couple of leagues, and, most notably, have had him in one keeper league since he first appeared in the big leagues. Maybe I'm just paranoid, or perhaps I'm being too much of a doomsday artist, but I have a sinking feeling that we won't see Neftali Feliz on a major league mound again this year.

Feliz went on the DL earlier this week when it was revealed that he had inflammation in his right elbow. It isn't serious, per se, but the Rangers are taking every precaution with their future ace, as they've been taking his transition from the minors to the bullpen to the rotation at a glacier-slow pace. The Rangers are saying that Feliz will be out for at least a month. Actually, he won't see big league action for, at the very least, about six weeks, as he won't be allowed to even touch a baseball for four weeks.

Feliz's first year as a starter has been a bumpy one. While he's shown flashes of the dominance that Rangers fans were expecting (and that they saw when he was the team's closer), he's also struggled with some brutal control isses. Feliz has walked nearly five batters per nine innings this year, a number that has made it nearly impossible for him to work deep into games. To wit: he hasn't worked past the sixth inning since April 21st. The Rangers have been handling him with kid gloves, even having him skip a start, but he still got hurt. That now means his fantasy owners are stuck looking for a replacement while he nurses his ailing arm.

But wait...it might get even worse. Rangers GM Jon Daniels hinted that Feliz's status in the rotation isn't a certainty upon his return. If he comes back, he might go right back into the bullpen and into fantasy irrelevance. Since Joe Nathan is busy revisiting his former glory years in the closer role, a return to the ninth inning is likely not in the cards for Feliz. So there's a very good chance he might just go into a setup role, where he'd be a valuable real-life player but a worthless fantasy player. That is, unless your league includes holds as a category, in which case you should immediately slap yourself for being in a league with such a horrible, stupid stat.

Call it junk science, witchery, or the Bad Face, but I don't have a good feeling about this. I've seen young pitchers get sent to the DL for precautionary reasons before, only to stay there for the whole year. I watched it happen with a bunch of Giants pitchers in the early-aughts, pitchers like Kurt Ainsworth, Jesse Foppert, and...hey, Joe Nathan!. My fears are purely anecdotal, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if Feliz started throwing around the All-Star Break, suffered a setback, and then was shut down for the rest of the year.

Which would just suck. Sadly, even if he does return, it'll probably be in some truncated role where he isn't valuable to your team. If you're thinking replacement, and thinking Scott Feldman, just stop those bad thoughts right now. No amount of run support will make Feldman and his soft toss stylings worthy of a pick up.

After the jump, a quick story about an encounter I had yesterday with a dreaded fantasy scenario, and how it went about as badly as you could ever imagine.

One thing managers hate the most in fantasy baseball is when they have two pitchers starting against each other in a game. You just have to root for a low-scoring game, even though one of your guys is very likely going to get tagged with a loss. Basically, you just close your eyes, hope for the best, and then cry when you click the box score and see that the game ended in a 12-11 score.

A few years ago, I was the beneficiary of the absolute perfect outcome of this sort of nightmarish fantasy matchup. Back in 2005, I had Roger Clemens (then having a fabulous year with the Astros) going against Mark Mulder (who was with the Cardinals in what would be his last effective season as a big leaguer). Fearing the worst, as I usually did when I came across this kind of conflict, I instead witnessed a thing of pure beauty.

Clemens was fabulous, pitching seven shutout innings and coming away with a no-decision. One-upping him, incredibly, was Mulder, who pitched ten shutout innings, and then got the win when the Cardinals won it in the bottom of the tenth. I can't even imagine a more perfect outcome when faced with this unpleasant fantasy situation. Maybe if this repeated itself, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say we won't be seeing any sixteen-inning shutouts any time soon.

Yesterday, I had two pitchers going against each other, but it didn't exactly turn out like the aforementioned Clemens-Mulder matchup. In fact, it was pretty much the polar opposite, the kind of game that makes a fantasy owner wake up in a sweat in the middle of the night and sends him running for a rain shower.

I had Barry Zito of the Giants going up against Marco Estrada of the Brewers. Before you ask what these guys are doing on my roster, much less starting, let me just say that it's a deep league, I need innings, and desperate times call for putting Marco Estrada in your fantasy rotation. I figured I could get some cheap innings from these guys, and perhaps get a quality start or two. Zito's having a solid year and Estrada came in with good K:BB numbers, which is why I picked him up in the first place. Couldn't hurt, right?

Oh, it hurt. Zito took the mound in the bottom of the first and before you could say "Barryoke", Zito had been lit up for six runs and any chance of a pitchers duel for my fantasy squad had been blown to kingdom come. Zito would end up giving up eight runs (only four earned...silver lining!) in just three innings. Joy.

Well, I figured. Estrada has himself a huge early lead, so he should be able to cruise at least five innings to an easy win, salvaging something for my team in this nightmarish game. There's no way he could screw this up, right? Wrong. Estrada hurt himself legging out a double in the first inning and had to leave the game, leaving me with a smoldering wreck of a pitching line. That's what I get for having the audacity to start two crappy pitchers against each other on a fantasy team.

--Speaking of Zito, it looks like whatever magic juju he was covered in during his hot April has worn off. His grisly 31 to 25 K:BB ratio is actually worse than last year, when his ERA was a full two runs higher. This isn't a good trend. I don't recommend dropping him...yet. Start him only when the Giants are playing at home and see if he can't at least give you some value in that limited capacity.

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