- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2011

SURPRISE, ARIZ. (AP) - Neftali Feliz will keep closing games instead of starting them for the AL champion Texas Rangers.

As for the Texas rotation, what seemed set Thursday morning was in flux within hours.

Feliz, who set a major league rookie record with 40 saves last season, had been stretched out this spring in case the Rangers decided to use the hard-throwing righty as a starter. Instead, he will remain in his familiar role.

Feliz pitched a scoreless eighth inning Thursday as a split squad of Rangers lost to San Diego 7-4.

“Right now, for our organization, he’s better in the bullpen,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “We haven’t closed the door on him being a starter. It’s just not now. We wanted to make sure that we continue to be strong in every area. With Feliz being at the closing end, we’re certainly strong.”

Feliz took over the closer’s role during last year and went 40 for 43 on save tries, going 4-3 with a 2.73 ERA.

Texas opened spring training knowing left-hander C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis would be its top two starters after Cliff Lee’s departure. The rest of the rotation announced Thursday included Tommy Hunter and left-handers Matt Harrison and Derek Holland.

At least that was the plan until Hunter strained his right groin in the Rangers‘ 15-13 victory over Cincinnati on Thursday afternoon.

It marked the third straight year Hunter has been hurt at the end of camp. In 2009 he sustained a groin injury and didn’t arrive in the majors until May. Last year, an oblique strain put him on the disabled list.

“I think I’ll be all right,” said Hunter, who has a 10.97 ERA in his three spring starts. “Three days … I had three days to go. It’s all right. We’ll get back together and go throw.”

Michael Kirkman, who was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock earlier in the day, could replace Hunter if the right-hander isn’t ready for his first start.

Wilson will start the season opener April 1 at home against Boston.

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