BOSTON — If this was 2012, Felix Doubront’s outing might have snowballed, and Boston’s bullpen might have been left to pick up the pieces of another short start. Fortunately for the Red Sox, it is no longer 2012.
Doubront kicked off his fourth start of the season in shaky fashion on Saturday. In the first inning, he gave up a hit, walked three, hit a batter and surrendered two runs while struggling to find the strike zone. A disastrous night seemed inevitable.
But things began to click for Doubront after he escaped the rocky first frame with only minimal damage inflicted. He settled down nicely, especially after the Red Sox’ offense posted four runs in the second inning to grab a lead, and he surrendered just one more run the rest of the way. Doubront eventually walked off the Fenway mound in the seventh inning following a job well done.
The Red Sox have received tremendous starting pitching all season long, and it’s a big reason why they came away from Saturday’s victory with the best record in baseball. What’s been as impressive as any statistic, however, is the starters’ ability to overcome occasional rough patches. Whether it’s been escaping key jams, working through brief control issues or bouncing back from a rough inning or two, this year’s starting rotation has done an excellent job of making in-game adjustments.
“Even in that situation to just allow the two runs, I thought he found a way to navigate through it and then as the evening went along, much better rhythm, much better tempo, worked quicker,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Doubront. “Still, he’s got the ability to get a lot of swing and miss on that changeup, swing and miss on that fastball, and again, to work into the seventh inning was a big lift once again tonight.”
Farrell said that he never considered taking Doubront out while the lefty struggled through the first inning, and the reason was because the Red Sox needed him to get through the middle innings. If Doubront continued to walk the ballpark, however, Farrell might have eventually been left with no other choice. That’s a situation the Sox faced all too often last season.
Now, there’s a growing confidence that even when the starters do back themselves into a corner, they’ll be able to punch their way out. It requires some trust — something it was hard to maintain when talking about the rotation last season — but it’s important to ensure the bullpen doesn’t get overworked.
“The reminders are in between innings to pick up the tempo, but you can’t force it initially,” Farrell said when asked about how pitchers can find a rhythm quicker. “They’ve got to get a feel for the mound, even though it’s at home and he’s pitched here many times, still you’re getting accustomed to that start day. Fortunately, he’s been able to get into the rhythm we mentioned.”
Doubront, who has been notorious for racking up high pitch counts early on in starts, appears to be learning from his veteran peers. He’s now worked into the seventh inning in two straight outings, and he has an impressive 3-0 record to show for it.
Every team is going to go through rough patches when it comes to pitching. The Red Sox’ have been few and far between thus far. When they have come, though, we’ve seen a lot of resiliency, and that’s nearly as impressive as pure dominance.