RIP to left-handed pitcher Pedro Feliciano, who for a time was one of the most frequently used relievers in baseball. He died in his sleep on Monday, November 8, at his home in Puerto Rico. He was 45 years old. During his final season in the majors, it was discovered he had a rare genetic heart condition, and he had to pitch in the spring while wearing a heart monitor. Feliciano pitched for the New York Mets in three separate stints: 2002-2004, 2006-2010, and 2013.
The New York Mets issued the following statement: “The Mets are so saddened to hear of the loss to their family today. Pedro Feliciano will be remembered as a beloved member of the Mets organization for his impact as a great teammate as well as his reputation as one of the most competitive, durable and reliable relievers during his time in Queens. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Feliciano family. Rest in peace, Pedro.”
Pedro Juan Feliciano was born in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, on August 25, 1976. He attended Jose S. Alegria High School in Dorado, Puerto Rico, and was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 31st Round of the 1995 Amateur Draft. He is the only player from that round to ever reach the major leagues. Feliciano began one of the unlikeliest roads to stardom with the Rookie-League Great Falls Dodgers of the Pioneer League in ’95. In 6 games, he allowed 10 earned runs on 12 hits for a 13.50 ERA. He walked 7 but struck out 9 in 6-2/3 innings. He didn’t pitch that well for Great Falls in 1996, either, but as he slowly moved higher and higher in the Dodgers’ minor-league organization, his control improved and his strikeout totals remained impressive. For the first few years with the Dodgers, he was occasionally moved into the starting rotation. He started 9 games for the Savannah Sand Gnats in 1997 and logged more than 100 innings for the only time in his professional career. He wasn’t as effective in 1998 and missed all of 1999. When he came back in 2000, he was a full-time reliever.
The Dodgers sent Feliciano to Vero Beach in 2000, which was a High-A team. He won 4 games in 25 appearances there and saw brief action in the Dodgers Double-A and Triple-A teams. He did very well in 9 games for the Double-A San Antonio Missions but was roughed up in an inning of work at Triple-A Albuquerque. He spent most of 2001 in Double-A Jacksonville and had great success, picking up 17 saves and recording a 1.94 ERA in 54 games. A promotion to Triple-A was again disastrous. Feliciano, now 24 years old, was granted free agency and signed a minor-league contract with the Cincinnati Reds.
In a little over half a season with the Reds organization in 2002, Feliciano put up good numbers in Double-A and Triple-A — good enough that the New York Mets acquired him in a trade on August 15, along with a minor-league outfielder and two players to be named later in exchange for pitcher Shawn Estes. The Mets brought him to the majors for the first time in his career that September. His first outing was an impressive 2-inning stint against the Florida Marlins on September 4. He allowed no hits in 2 innings of work, walking a batter and striking out 2. After two good outings, there were a few where the rookie lefty was hit hard. In 6 games, he gave up 5 runs on 9 hits for a 7.50 ERA. The Mets placed him on waivers in the offseason, and he was claimed by the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers released him, and Feliciano joined the Mets for a second time.
When Feliciano joined the Mets for the first time, he met the team in Houston. The Astros closer at the time was Billy Wagner, one of Feliciano’s idols, even though they were just five years apart in age. “I was shagging flies before the game and he was, too. I wanted to go over and tell him but I was too shy,” Feliciano later recalled. The two lefties would later become teammates on some pretty excellent Mets teams.
Feliciano spent 2003 and 2004 moving between Triple-A Norfolk and the big-league club. He had a good season with the Mets in 2003, with a 3.35 ERA in 23 appearances. Mets manager Art Howe used him as a long-relief pitcher, and he threw nearly 50 innings in those 23 games. He struggled in 2004 but picked up his first major-league win on August 4. He struck out the only two batters he faced — lefties Geoff Jenkins and Russell Branyan — in a 5-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. It was his first decision in 32 major-league appearances. It was also around this time that Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson encouraged Feliciano to drop his arm angle, making him more effective in lefty-versus-lefty matchups.
Feliciano signed a 1-year, $735,000 contract with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of Japan’s Pacific League in 2005. His season in Japan was pretty successful, with a 3-2 record and 3.89 ERA in 37 games. He then returned to the Mets for the third time that December. It was here that Feliciano, now 29 years old and entering his 12th professional season, finally stuck in the majors. It ended up coming down to usage. Starting in 2006, manager Willie Randolph turned Feliciano into a LOOGY — a left-handed one-out guy. Jerry Manuel, who followed Randolph as manager midway through the 2008 season, took it to even more of an extreme than Randolph did. From 2008 through 2010, Feliciano led the National League in appearances by a pitcher, with 86, 88 and 92 games, respectively. In those years, his innings pitched were 53-1/3, 59-1/3 and 62-2/3, respectively. He came in, faced his two or three hitters, left and was ready to do it again the next day. That workhorse usage earned him the nickname of “Perpetual Pedro” in the New York press.
Consider Feliciano’s 2009 season. He appeared in 88 games and threw 59-1/3 innings. He faced 242 batters, and 156, or 64%, were left-handed. Lefties batted .215 off him, while right-handed batters did a little better with a .264 mark. That’s the most extreme example from Feliciano’s extended run of success with the Mets, but it shows that he was very good at what he did. He wasn’t a closer, and he didn’t rack up lots of wins as a long reliever. He was the weapon in the Mets bullpen who was called upon whenever a southpaw needed to get a couple of outs in a key situation.
The 2006 Mets won 97 games in the regular season and advanced to the NL Championship Series, where they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. Their bullpen was one of their greatest strengths. Closer Billy Wagner was the star, but Feliciano and fellow lefty Darren Oliver were picked up for bargain prices and delivered big results. Feliciano got into 64 games and had a 7-2 record and 2.09 ERA, which was third-best among NL relievers. He also ended Chase Utley’s 35-game hitting streak on August 4 when he fanned the Phillies star on a slow curveball in the ninth inning. In the Division Series against the Dodgers, he appeared in all 3 games and allowed 2 walks in 1-2/3 innings. He picked up the win in the deciding Game Three after he entered the game in the bottom of the fifth inning, with the bases loaded and score tied at 4. He walked James Loney to let the Dodgers take the lead, but pinch-hitter Nomar Garciaparra grounded out to end the inning. The Mets then scored 3 runs and eventually won 10-5. Feliciano also appeared in 3 of the NLCS games against the Cardinals. St. Louis won in 7 games, and Feliciano allowed a solo home run to pinch-hitter Chris Duncan in Game Five, which St. Louis won 4-2.
Feliciano was once again very good in 2007, with 2 wins and a 3.09 ERA in 78 games. He also picked up the first two saves of his career. Wagner lobbied hard for Feliciano to get some All-Star recognition. “Look at what he has to do. Every game it’s in the toughest situation, usually against the toughest hitter. I admire him,” Wagner said, and Feliciano must have been thrilled to hear a pitcher he once idolized compliment him so.
That ’07 Mets team was the victim of a late-season collapse that knocked them out of the postseason race. The bullpen was a primary culprit, as the relievers were overworked and worn out by the end of the season. But Feliciano was dealing with worse problems at the time. He and his wife, Wendy, had a healthy 5-year-old son named Joskar, and their daughter Josnelly was born on June 29, 2007. Shortly after her birth, doctors discovered that she had congenital heart disease that eventually required open heart surgery to correct.
“My wife was always crying, so I just tried to support her and tell her everything is fine, but I didn’t know either,” he said. “I was so scared for my daughter. But I didn’t get too crazy about it because I knew God would be here and would take care of her.” Days after the surgery, the Felicianos were all able to return to Puerto Rico, and a healthy Josnelly was one of the stars of spring training in 2008.
Whether from the physical load of the past couple of seasons or the emotional toll of having a daughter with health problems, Feliciano struggled in 2008. His ERA shot up by nearly a run to 4.05, he allowed more than a hit per inning, and he gave up a career-worst 7 home runs — all while leading the NL in appearances for the first time and setting a new Mets record in appearances with 86. He proceeded to break his own record in each of the next two seasons.
Without another good lefty in the bullpen, the Mets leaned hard on Feliciano, and he responded with a return to his past form in 2009. He was 6-4 with a 3.03 ERA, and he fanned 59 batters in 59-1/3 innings. His control, which was always pretty good, improved even further, as he walked just 18 batters. “I think I’m a little more consistent with my pitching than before, instead of a couple of outings good, then a couple of bad outings. I think that’s why I’ve been used more,” he told the Daily News.
Feliciano went into his 2010 season looking for the first multi-year contract of his career. He set a new Mets record with 92 appearances and allowed just 1 home run in those appearances. He also continued to demonstrate dominance against left-handed batters, holding them to a .211 batting average. He got that multi-year deal when the Yankees signed him to a 2-year contract, worth $8 million. The Associated Press reported that his signing was due at least in part to the Boston Red Sox adding left-handed Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to their lineup. Yankees southpaw Damaso Marte had undergone offseason shoulder surgery, leaving Boone Logan as the only lefty in the bullpen before Feliciano signed.
He never threw a regular season pitch for the Yankees. Feliciano had a weak arm in spring training in 2011 and was shut down by the team. General Manager said that Feliciano had been “abused” with his heavy workload over the last three or four seasons. Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen denied the allegations of abuse. “But that was part of the reason that we decided not to re-sign him, is because we knew we had used him 270-some times in the last three years,” he admitted.
Feliciano was diagnosed with a capsular tear in his left shoulder, and he underwent rotator cuff surgery in September of 2011. His time with the Yankees was spent throwing 1 inning in a Gulf Coast League game in 2011 and 10 rehab appearances in 2012. The Yankees did not pick up the club option for Feliciano in 2013, making him a free agent again. He decided on a fourth tour of duty with the Mets.
By the time that baseball season rolled around in 2013, Feliciano’s shoulder was only the second-biggest concern. He was diagnosed with a heart defect of his own — left ventricular noncompaction cardiomyopathy. In plain terms, there were bundles of muscle in the ventricle that extend into the chamber. He was allowed to pitch in spring training, while wearing a heart monitor. The Mets decided to assign the 37-year-old pitcher to the minors to regain strength, where he experienced a further setback with a bout of food poisoning. Feliciano refused to retire.
“It was important for me to do this. Everyone said that the shoulder injury was career-ending,” he said. “I didn’t feel like it was the end of my career. And I knew I had to prove that to everyone else.”
Feliciano’s fastball, never a big part of his game, had lost velocity, but he was still retiring batters through his offspeed pitches and veteran smarts. The Mets brought him back to the majors, and he retired Kansas City’s Alex Gordon on a grounder to second base on August 2. It was his first time pitching in the major leagues in more than two-and-a-half years. This time around, the Mets were cautious with his workload, and he was truly a LOOGY. Only once in 25 appearances did he pitch a full inning. All total, he threw 11-1/3 innings, ending the season with an 0-2 record and 3.97 ERA. The Mets did not re-sign him in the offseason; he joined the Cardinals organization in late May of 2014 but did not pitch well enough to return to the majors. Feliciano continued to pitch in winter ball in Puerto Rico through the 2014-15 season and ended his career with a couple of scoreless outings for Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series that winter.
In his 9-year career with the Mets, Feliciano appeared in 484 games. That places him second on the team’s all-time list, behind John Franco (695). He had a 22-21 record and 4 saves, with a 3.33 ERA. In 383-2/3 innings of work, he struck out 350 batters and walked 165. He had a lifetime ERA+ of 126 and generated 5.7 Wins Above Replacement in his career. His 2010, 2009 and 2008 seasons are still Nos. 1-3 on the Mets single-season games played list for pitchers, and his 78 games from 2007 are tied for 10th, with Jeurys Familia (2016) and Aaron Heilman (2008).
Feliciano and his family lived in Puerto Rico in his retirement. Several of his former teammates have issued tributes to him in the last couple of days.
“He was a wonderful teammate with a great sense of humor,” said David Wright. “In all my years in baseball, I never saw a left-handed relief specialist have such a presence in the clubhouse. He had a great personality.”
“I never had to look down to the bullpen to see if Pedro was ready. He was always on call and never said no,” former said his former manager Randolph. “I know some days he was tired, but he always took the ball. Forty-five is too young.”