Feldman transitioning into veteran leader
Opening Day starter not used to being one of more experienced players on team
SAN ANTONIO -- The responsibility placed on Scott Feldman's shoulders this year comes in many shapes and forms.
As the team's highest-paid player -- he'll make $12 million this year in the first of a three-year deal -- he's logged more innings in the Major Leagues than all other Astros starting pitchers combined and was brought in to be the leader in a young rotation.
The role of ace and mentor is somewhat hard for the 6-foot-7 right-hander to digest, considering he's not that far removed from being one of the younger guys with the Rangers -- for whom he won 39 games from 2005-12, including 17 in '09.
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"I guess when you're older than a lot of the guys, you kind of know that people are going to look to you and see how you do things," Feldman said. "I know I always did that when I was younger. I want to be myself and make sure I set a good example for some of the younger guys as well."
Feldman, who split last year with the Cubs and Orioles, will get the nod for the Astros when they face the Yankees on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park to open the season. It will be his second career Opening Day start (Rangers in 2010) and first appearance in his new uniform.
Feldman will be the fifth consecutive different pitcher to start on Opening Day for the Astros, joining Bud Norris (2013), Wandy Rodriguez (2012), Brett Myers (2011) and Roy Oswalt (2003-10).
"As the spring progressed, I sort of got more confidence with each one of my pitches, and am looking forward to keeping the season rolling," Feldman said. "I think every time you take the ball, you're out there to compete and earn your keep. You never take anything for granted."
The Astros, who saw youngsters Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock each pitch well in the rotation the second half of last year, needed to find a veteran arm in the winter and set their sights on Feldman.
"He's been there, he's done it," manager Bo Porter said. "He's a veteran guy. He's been highly successful in this league, in this division. He's won 17 games before. His veteran leadership -- and it's not just what it is he would say to a lot of the guys -- it's the way he goes about his business, the professionalism. It's benefiting a lot of the young guys that are here because they're getting an opportunity to watch a constant professional each and every day."
Feldman began his career as a reliever and made his first 73 career appearances out of the bullpen from 2005-07 before being moved to the rotation in '08. It was a move made out of necessity, he said.
"When I was a reliever, I threw with a lot lower of an arm angle," he said. "You really don't see too many guys with low arm angles that are starters. Mark Connor, who was the pitching there, was like, 'Man, you [stink]. You need to try something new.' In a nicer way than that.
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"He got my arm angle to raise back up to where it was in college and worked with me to develop a cutter and stuff like that. Once I brought my arm angle up, I showed them I could throw more than just one or two pitches for a strike. They were like, 'Well, you have a chance to start to go to Double-A.'"
Feldman made two starts in Double-A before joining the Rangers rotation. His best season came in 2009, when he went 17-8 with a 4.08 ERA in 34 games (31 starts). Now that he's in Houston, the easygoing Hawaii native has quickly bonded with the young arms, hanging out with Cosart and throwing catch daily with Peacock.
"It's one of those things where a lot of the teams I've been on, I've been one of the younger guys and fortunate enough to play with a lot of good pitchers," he said. "Really, I don't consider myself a big-time veteran. I'm trying to get better and work on stuff.
"There's a lot of times maybe I've been hit around a lot, more than Cosart and Peacock, because I've played a little bit longer. If I can give them some pointers on how to come back from failure, I've probably failed a lot more than them, too."
Feldman, 31, is still searching for the kind of success he enjoyed in 2009 when he blossomed into a 17-game winner, ranking among the American League leaders in wins and setting a Texas record with 12 road wins.
He started on Opening Day for the Rangers the following year, but couldn't duplicate the success -- going 7-11 with a 5.48 ERA -- and was moved back to the bullpen after making 20 starts. Feldman underwent knee surgery following that season and missed the first half of the 2011 season.
Last year was the first season he started 30 games since '09, going 12-12 with a 3.86 ERA in 30 starts with the Cubs and Orioles. He was traded to Baltimore on July 2, 2013, so the Astros are his fourth team in a little more than a year.
"The thing is, it never really seems like hard work, playing baseball," he said. "It's always been fun and I never looked at it as if, 'Oh man, I have to go to the field today and do work.' I'm living a dream of mine, and I always wanted to play baseball, so it's fun."