With the Boston Red Sox bullpen in quite a state – somewhere between crumbling and collapse – they need solutions.

The first look is internal, and Red Sox fans might remember last year’s draft. Didn’t Boston pick a “sure-bet” reliever last summer?

Indeed, Durbin Feltman was drafted in the third round out of Texas Christian and handed a $560,000 bonus. Some predraft prognosticators pegged Feltman as the relief pitcher “closest to the major leagues” because of his dynamite fastball/slider combination.

So is he ready for the majors or not?

Short answer: He’s working on it – grinding through his first full pro season, with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs.

Since May 8, Red Sox prospect Durbin Feltman has a 1.40 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, and 18 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings out of the bullpen for the Portland Sea Dogs. Photo by Zachary Roy/Getty Images

“He’s a young professional. This is a tough level to cut your teeth on,” said Sea Dogs pitching coach Paul Abbott.

After a horrible start to this season, Feltman is settling down. Since May 8 he has a 1.40 ERA and 1.04 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning), and 18 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings.

“Numbers don’t lie. He’s making strides,” Abbott said. “As we move along, getting more work on the side, he’s sharpening necessary tools, eliminating inconsistencies.”

Feltman could hide inconsistencies at lower levels. He pitched in 22 games last year, none higher than Class A. The Red Sox seemed in no hurry to promote him. Feltman said he was able to ignore the media/internet speculation of his potential and bore down – a combined 1.93 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, with 36 strikeouts/five walks in 23 1/3 innings.

This year at spring training, the speculation of Feltman being on the Fenway doorstep continued.

This from nbcsports.com: “If 21-year-old relief prospect Durbin Feltman lives up to expectations, the bullpen won’t be an area of concern much longer for the Red Sox.”

And that was before he got into a spring-training game. His debut featured a scoreless inning – two strikeouts, one walk. He eventually pitched four games (3 2/3 innings), giving up two hits (one homer), two runs and three walks, striking out six. Red Sox Manager Alex Cora complimented Feltman – “the stuff was there” – but warned he had work to do.

When Cora spoke about Feltman, he used words of caution, even mentioning Craig Hansen, Boston’s first-round pick in 2005. Hansen was rushed to Portland, then to the majors that same year. He never prospered (6.34 career ERA).

A couple of other former Sea Dogs relievers also were rushed. Bryce Cox, a third-round pick, was pushed to Portland in 2007, the year after he was drafted. He struggled and was sent down to Class A. Cox got back to Portland but never further. Cla Meredith, a sixth-round pick in 2005, began 2006 in Portland and was called to Boston in May. He was hit hard in three games (seven runs) and struggled until being traded the next year. Meredith did recover and had a five-year major league career.

Still, expectations abound for Feltman. He admits to listening to those voices saying he was close to being a major leaguer.

“Just having that taste during spring training, (being available for) the big league games,” Feltman said. “I want to say I blacked it out like I did last year, but it got a little more prominent in my head.”

Ask any minor leaguer: When they look ahead to the majors instead of focusing on the process to get there … it doesn’t go well.

Feltman, now 22, had that “bust” look early this year with a 9.90 ERA and 2.00 WHIP through five weeks.

“You can’t force it and I tried to force it,” he said.

That only increased the pressure.

“Whenever I had a bad outing, it was ‘that’s going to delay me, that’s going to delay me,’” Feltman said. “I should have been saying I need to go out and dominate and do what I can do, instead of trying to play for that promotion.”

Relievers are supposed to have short memories but every bad outing became baggage Feltman carried around. He finally reached a crossroad and cleared his mind.

“I feel like I’m blocking it out better … keep rolling and figuring it out,” he said.

The new attitude helped, as did a new pitch and a new grip, with Abbott’s help.

Feltman, who throws a mid-90’s fastball, threw his slider around 82-84 mph. Abbott said the slider was more of a hard curveball. Abbott suggested a new pitch (more of a traditional slider, around 87-89), along with a new grip on his hard curve that “gives it later life,” Abbott said.

“It’s working better,” Feltman said. “Hopefully the (the new grip) turns out to be a real weapon.”

It’s a weapon the Boston bullpen can use – when Feltman is truly ready.


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