Felix Doubront Hoping to Find Key to Health in His Footwork

Felix Doubront Hoping to Find Key to Health in His FootworkFORT MYERS, Fla. –– Nearly one year ago, Felix Doubront entered spring training healthy. No injuries, no setbacks. At that point, the 23-year-old was poised to crack the Red Sox rotation.

That was until his body failed him. Shortly after spring training commenced, the lefty started to experience tightness in his elbow. Before long, he was shut down for camp and placed on Pawtucket's disabled list to begin the season.

The medical visits would ensue. A month into his return, Doubront suffered a strained left groin, resulting in his second stint on the DL. Then, after a healthy June, he capped his injury-plagued nightmare with a strained hamstring in July.

"I don't want anything like last year to ever happen again," said Doubront, who only started 18 games between Lowell, Portland and Pawtucket. "That's all in the past."

To deliver on that desire, he's correcting his footwork. In the past, as Doubront unloaded pitches — and followed through with his motion — he typically capped his delivery by planting his left foot down, heel-first.

That habit is now history. At Red Sox pitching coach Bob McClure's behest, Doubront has modified his technique this spring, changing his follow-through to land flat on the front of his foot.

It may seem like a minor alteration. From McClure's vantage point, though, it could end Doubront's trips to the disabled list.

"Most pitchers that stay healthy will land pretty flat with their front foot," McClure said. "When you go throw a baseball and that foot hits, most of them don't bang [it down]. Their toe is up in the air and the toe comes down because it causes you to recoil and puts a lot of pressure on your shoulder and arm."

Using an analogy, the new Red Sox pitching coach likened pitchers that land on their heels to power hitters. Once they plant that foot down, McClure said the momentum completely shifts their bodies sideways.

Most hurlers eventually suffer the consequences by undergoing Tommy John surgery, a procedure to repair elbows.

"[Mark] Prior was really bad, Kerry Wood was really bad, [Joel] Zumaya was really bad," McClure said of their footwork. "I mean to where their heel would hit, their toe was three or four inches in the air."

"They're getting to release the ball, then the toe comes down, but they kind of get underneath the ball and it puts a lot of stress on your elbow and shoulder. So I'm trying to get [Doubront] to be more accurate and healthier if he can just land flat."

After that explanation, Doubront quickly connected the dots. He realized that last spring's elbow tightness — and possibly the flurry of other injuries — was likely a byproduct of his faulty footwork.

As Doubront competes for a spot in the Red Sox rotation this spring, the southpaw has embraced the adjustment.

"I can see the difference," Doubront said. "Now I'm focusing on those smaller details so it can help my arm and my legs and I can stay healthy. It's less stress on my body if I do it the right way. I'm just practicing to get that delivery down."

McClure said the change could also reinforce Doubront's pitching arsenal. By alleviating the pressure on his arm, the lefty leaves the door open for his velocity to increase and accuracy to improve.

To prevent further injury, Doubront spent the offseason exercising his hamstrings and lower extremities. After all, a groin and hamstring strain caused him to miss parts of May, July and August last season.

But a week and a half into spring training, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine offered a glowing evaluation of Doubront.

"He seems to have a very good pitching feel," Valentine said. "He understands his body very well –– threw three pitches [Sunday] at the end of his workout and understood exactly what he was doing to have those pitches misfire. Left-handers who are kind of scripted are usually successful if they can maintain any kind of consistency."

Having adopted McClure's philosophy, Doubront wants to pen a comeback story in 2012 and erase memories of last year's dreadful season.

"It was a learning experience and every year you learn some more," Doubront said, reflecting on the adversity. "Last year was alright, but this year will be better."

For Doubront, his first step toward success literally starts with his feet.

Have a question for Didier Morais? Send it to him via Twitter at @DidierMorais or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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