He hasn’t lived up to the expectations of the contract.

Two years ago he went from Opening Day starter to a healthy scratch from the playoff rosters.

He’s a relief pitcher with a basically undefined role, wildly overpaid for the job he’s being asked to fill, and in seven or eight months Texas is unquestionably going to buy him out of his club option for 2013 rather than lock him down for that extra year.

But Scott Feldman is going to be vitally important to the success of the 2012 Rangers.

Texas fought through its share of key injuries to the everyday lineup in 2011, but its season-opening rotation was remarkably healthy, making 157 of 162 starts.  Those five other starts were necessitated only by a couple blisters and a front office effort to ease the load on a couple young starters.

The rotation of C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Alexi Ogando was nails last year.  Each won at least 13 games, the first fivesome to do so in the American League since the Baltimore and New York rotations pulled it off before any of them were born (1977).

The starting five was so reliable that the injuries that sidelined Feldman (coming off winter knee surgery) and Tommy Hunter (who suffered a groin strain in spring training, making Ogando a starter) for the entire first half never really became an issue.

But you can’t count on that sort of rotation health for a second straight year, and chances are Feldman, who made two of those cameo starts last year (Dave Bush made the other three), will be asked to contribute more in 2012 than he was in 2011.

Two years ago, just before the 2010 season began, Texas gave Feldman – who was coming off a 17-8, 4.08 campaign – a contract extension that would pay the righthander $4.4 million in 2011 and $6.5 million in 2012, with a $9.25 million option for 2013 that can (and surely will) be bought out for $600,000.  The club was locking down the two remaining arbitration years for the pitcher it was about to hand the ball to open the 2010 season, and giving itself the option to delay his free agency by a year.

Three days after signing the extension, Feldman delivered a quality start in a 5-4 home win over Toronto, kicking off a Rangers season that would end in the World Series . . .  which Feldman watched with the rest of us, having lost his rotation spot with two months to go and mopping up the rest of the way as Texas locked down its post-season ticket.

A non-factor in camp in 2011 as he worked his way back from knee surgery, Feldman’s expected return to action was delayed by two months when a May rehab assignment was cut short.  He didn’t rejoin the big league staff until July 14, the start of the second half, and didn’t get called on to pitch until eight days after that, when he was asked to work the ninth inning of a 12-2 win over the Blue Jays, the same club he had dealt against on Opening Day a year and a half earlier.

There were a few standout moments down the stretch for Feldman (led by six shutout innings against Tampa Bay in a combined 2-0 shutout on August 30, which enabled the club to maintain a 3.5-game lead in the division and give Harrison some added rest), but it was his work through most of the playoffs that reminded us what an asset he can be when the cutter is cutting and located.  In the first 10.1 of his 13.2 post-season innings, Feldman scattered four hits and walked nobody, fanning 10 Rays, Tigers, and Cardinals and permitting none to score.

As Texas readjusted its rotation going into 2012, replacing Wilson with Yu Darvish and Ogando with Neftali Feliz, the plan remained somewhat amorphous for Feldman, who wouldn’t be asked to start and wouldn’t be asked to close and wouldn’t be asked to set up.  He’ll just be a glue guy in the pen, probably called on to make a spot start here and there, and maybe more if rotation injuries or ineffectiveness so dictate.

It wasn’t necessarily a representative Reds lineup that Feldman faced last night, but firing six shutout innings (three hits, no walks, nine strikeouts) is firing six shutout innings.  He was sharp with his command and missing bats.

Those results mean no more than what Wilson did against the Cubs’ AAA squad on Sunday (five innings, three runs on six hits and four walks, zero strikeouts), but at some point you have to look at Feldman’s spring (20 innings, 20 strikeouts and two walks) and feel pretty good about your $6.5 million long/middle reliever-spot starter, or whatever the club is calling him.

While Jon Heyman (CBS Sports) is out there suggesting that “the LA Angels may be the first team ever to have too many good players,” guys like Scott Feldman, a former 30th-round pick who has pitched in relative obscurity in his good years and gotten pegged as a bad investment in his bad ones, are rarely going to get much attention.

But good teams have Scott Feldman’s around to do the dirty work, which in some years will pile up more than in others, and you can bet that the Rangers have been approached by other teams about the number nine pitcher on their staff a lot more than the national media would ever believe – and that the club is not particularly inclined to discard a pitcher who is probably going to end up playing a bigger role in keeping this thing in contention than almost anyone expects.

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