BOSTON — Felix Doubront was almost unrecognizable during the second game of Tuesday’s doubleheader.
Doubront, a man notorious for running up high pitch counts, struggling with control and walking a tightrope, was in complete control against the Rays. The lefty twirled eight shutout innings in what was, without question, the best start of his big league career.
Doubront didn’t factor into the decision Tuesday, as Kelly Johnson smacked a game-tying home run off Andrew Bailey in the top of the ninth inning before Jonny Gomes eventually responded with a walk-off blast in the bottom of the inning. But lack of decision aside, there was a lot to love about Doubront’s effort.
Doubront’s eight innings were a career high, and he allowed just three hits, all of which came in the first three innings. The lefty retired the final 17 batters he faced en route to turning in his first career scoreless start of any length. Manager John Farrell even admitted after the game that he considered sending Doubront back out for the ninth before ultimately deciding to go with Bailey.
“Yeah, there was some thought of that, particularly knowing that [James] Loney’s gonna come up in that inning,” Farrell said. “He handled everyone in that lineup well tonight, but that’s [Andrew Bailey’s] job, and Felix more than did his work in an outstanding effort on his part tonight.”
It was more than just a day at the office for Doubront. He gave the Red Sox a fantastic start at a time when they need him to step up. With Jon Lester struggling and Clay Buchholz battling a neck injury that forced the right-hander to the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday, the Sox need their No. 3-5 starters to provide quality innings on a consistent basis. Doubront not only provided quality innings, but he also showed that he might be on the verge of turning a corner.
Doubront walked at least two batters in eight of his 11 starts before Tuesday, and even that doesn’t quite encapsulate his season-long control issues. For much of the year, Doubront has seen his pitch count skyrocket early on in starts because of an inability to put hitters away, and that, in turn, has limited his innings potential. On Tuesday, Doubront took advantage of Tampa Bay’s aggressiveness at the plate, and he constantly pounded the strike zone, not walking a single batter while tossing a very efficient 93 pitches.
“A lot of strikes. He didn’t have that stretch of hitters where he lost the strike zone where he issued a couple of base on balls. He attacked the zone all night,” Farrell said. “Fastball command. I thought he threw a number of cutters tonight to keep the right-handers honest with some balls breaking in on them, and he was able to slow them down with his curveball and his changeup. So it was a four-pitch mix that he had command of, and he did a very good job for us.”
Doubront must prove that Tuesday’s start wasn’t a fluke by stringing together some more good outings. The 25-year-old is already beginning to take that step, though, as his ERA over his last seven starts sits at 2.81 (13 earned runs in 41 2/3 innings), and he’s allowed three earned runs or fewer in each start during that span.
Tuesday was a long day at the ballpark, so weary Red Sox fans probably gave a double take while watching Doubront spin a gem. Rest assured that your eyes did not deceive you.