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The difficulty of transitioning relievers to starters - and there's a live chat today

New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain throws during

New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain throws during an early morning bullpen session prior to the team's first full-squad spring training baseball practice in Tampa, Fla. (Feb. 20, 2011) Credit: AP

That's right, live chat at 2:00 this afternoon. Get ready. Just try to stump me.

(Actually, the live-chat format tends to work better when there's a friendly, conversational vibe. But there is an MVP award at stake.)

--My friend Jamey Newberg wrote yesterday that he expects Neftali Feliz, whom the Rangers have tried as a starting pitcher this spring, to return to his 2010 job of closer by the time the regular season commences.

Feliz told reporters that, while he's open to doing either job, he'd prefer to close. All indications are that manager Ron Washington wanted to keep Feliz as his closer, while the Rangers' front office - having lost Cliff Lee to Philadelphia over the winter - was more intrigued by Feliz's potential as a frontline starter.

And so, for those of us who experienced the Joba Chamberlain saga - I suppose you could argue that we're still experiencing it, given that we were asking just this year whether he should switch back into the rotation - we're reminded once more of just how tough it can be to transition a successful reliever to a starter. 

The only positive such tale I can recall in recent years is St. Louis' Adam Wainwright, and there's some irony there, because a) Wainwirght achieved the ultimate for a closer - he recorded the last out in a World Series; and b) the Cardinals, under the leadership of Walt Jocketty at the time, were one of the more "old school" franchises, relying more on scouting values than statistical analysis. 

So why did Wainwright move so easily to the starting rotation? Because he took the closer's job under a different circumstance: He was filling in for the injured, successful and popular Jason Isringhausen, who is now in Mets camp as a minor-league invitee. Isringhausen returned in 2007 to take back his old job, and he did it well. Crisp and clean, and no caffeine.

Contrast that with Chamberlain, who attained his lightning-rod status despite being the mere setup man to the great Mariano Rivera. The Yankees also didn't promote much goodwill with their odd usage patterns of Chamberlain as a starter. We know that they learned their lesson with their more sensible transition of Phil Hughes from the bullpen back to the rotation.

(Why did Hughes work out so well? While he excelled as a reliever, he didn't seem to catch the "bug" the same way that Chamberlain, Feliz or Jonathan Papelbon did. It also helped that he started so well last year, as did the Yankees as a whole.)

The Rangers really could use another top-of-the-line starter. The A's seem primed to make a real run at the AL West crown, and Brandon Webb - who hasn't pitched since Opening Day 2009 - is not much more than an interesting, pricey flyer at this point. 

But they traded Frank Francisco, their other reliever with closing experience, to Toronto in January. And there is that emotional element - within the team, and in the Dallas/Fort Worth yakosphere (copyright Neil Best)  - of anxiety surrrounding the identity of the new closer. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." 

So if Feliz isn't all in on the starting idea, and you'd be going with an inexperienced closer? That's a tough sell for everyone involved. Even though we all understand that a frontline starter is far more valuable than a closer.

--A.J. Burnett had a good outing at Steinbrenner Field.

--Eduardo Nunez went deep off Roy Oswalt. If Nunez beats out Ramiro Pena for a spot on the Yankees' season-opening roster, it'll mark a change for Joe Girardi, who has continually opted for Pena over Nunez (during both the regular season and the postseason last year). Nunez clearly can do more bat with his bat than Pena can.

--Girardi will be a daily presence on WFAN, Best reports. Girardi will speak with Mike Francesa every weekday in which the Yankees play, with an extended interview on Thursday. Interesting that Girardi would choose to do this. What's the motivation? A few extra bucks?

--More than once, we've grouped Burnett and Ollie Perez together in conversations here, because both men were overpaid by their respective New York team and because neither man will ever chosen to appear on "Jeopardy!" But whereas the Yankees are leaning heavily on Burnett for the 2011 season, the Mets appear just about ready to part ways with Perez, who might make his final start today.

I just can't see Perez being a good lefty situational reliever, no matter what his numbers against lefty hitters say. Could the Mets really count on Ollie to come through in a tight LOOGY spot? 

--Josh Thole seems like a nice guy, and I'm curious to see his development with the Mets this year. As a tweeter, however...there's room for improvement.

--Carlos Beltran rested yesterday and is scheduled to play today.

--When you read a story like this, about James F. McCann's possible interest in buying a share of the Mets, you wonder, "If this group is so 'friendly,' then why didn't they buy a share of the team when the Mets tried to take care of this privately?" It's fair to contemplate whether such a group is in the mix just to help out the Wilpons, to create the perception of increased interest. We'll see.

--Chris Carpenter is experiencing more problems with his ailing hamstring. 

--Kim Ng and Peter Woodfork are joining Major League Baseball's Manhattan headquarters to work under new executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre.

--See you at 2:00. Due to the late hour, we won't be serving lunch at the live chat. Sorry.

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