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Joakim Soria has 160 career saves at the major league level. Neftali Feliz has 74. Soria has a career 9.80 K/9 over 339 innings. Feliz has a mark of 8.79 over 210. Soria has a career 2.50 ERA. Feliz has one at 2.61. Soria’s career has survived two Tommy John surgeries while Feliz’, just one. And though he isn’t a fan of it, Soria has one of the best nicknames in baseball, the Mexecutioner. Does Feliz even have a nickname, let alone a cool one?

So when Soria took the mound for his Cactus League debut Sunday and put the White Sox down 1-2-3, you can imagine the pressure Feliz felt as the two are in direct competition for the Rangers closer job left vacant by the departure of Joe Nathan. Feliz may be younger and he may throw harder, but the pressure just may have gotten to him just a bit as he gave up two runs on three hits, including a home run to White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers. Advantage Soria, right?

Obviously, I’m speaking somewhat tongue and cheek here with the numbers – both could be fantastic options and it’s way too early to worry about how they did in one Cactus League game on March 2. But the bottom line is that the Rangers have a serious battle for the ninth-inning job and both pitchers are going full-force this spring to beat out the other. The winner will be the Rangers closer in 2014 while the “loser” will hang around the eighth inning in a set-up role and likely stand close enough for the winner to feel the hot breath on the back of his neck should any missteps occur.

Soria obviously makes for an outstanding candidate here. Though he only tossed 23.2 innings last season in his return from a second Tommy John procedure, he looked as dynamic as always. Maybe even a little more so than he had recently. His K/9 jumped to 10.35, he posted a 51.8-percent ground ball rate, and though he did struggle a bit with his command (something expected just coming back from such a surgery), his velocity numbers stayed well in-line with his usual numbers. And while it’s tough to expect the same percentage of use of each of his pitches, it’s always encouraging to see him not shy away from using his slider or curve, knowing the tension they put on the arm he just had rebuilt, again. His mindset is that of a closer and his experience in the role helps to make him an easy choice.

But Feliz is now Judge Smales here. He’s no slouch himself when it comes to closing out games. The 25-year-old right-hander looked fierce in 2010 and 2011 when he served as the Rangers’ closer and it wasn't until the team tried converting him to a starter in 2012 where he developed elbow issues that would eventually require surgery. His strikeout rate fluctuated a bit back then and he did have the occasional command issues, but he was throwing 96 mph heaters regularly back then and missed plenty of bats, as evidenced by a swinging strike percentage that sat just above 11-percent each year. Feliz only threw 4.2 innings last year when he finally made it back, so the numbers from then (velocity and control) cannot be weighted as much, if at all. He’s now had the entire offseason to build up his arm strength and stamina and has already told MLB.com that he is determined to reclaim the job as his own.

Considering the participants in this battle, it definitely looks to be one of the more exciting that we’ll see this spring. It’s not yet known how long manager Ron Washington is going to let this battle wage before he makes his final decision, but fantasy owners who would obviously like it to be made sooner than later are going to be treated to quite the spectacle. It’s like watching two championship thoroughbreds racing down the stretch separated by a nose, if that. Just be careful though, because coming up close on the outside is a very talented young colt in Tanner Scheppers. Enjoy!


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