Felix Doubront‘s season has undergone a major transformation.
The fortunate part about hitting rock bottom early is that you can only go up. Doubront is showing that there is no limit on how high you can climb, though, as he has evolved into a very reliable back-end starter after a very shaky start to the season.
There was a time this year when it looked like Doubront’s days in the Red Sox’ starting rotation were numbered. His ERA sat at 6.40 after he gave up six runs in back-to-back starts on May 3 and May 8, and it was the same old song and dance every time he took the mound. The walks piled up, the pitch count soared and the tightrope walk commenced.
Diminished velocity only compounded Doubront’s issues. The lefty had established himself as a pitcher who was capable of punching out hitters, and that swing-and-miss ability often allowed him to escape trouble that he pitched himself into. With his fastball suddenly sitting at around 90-92 mph, Doubront found it much more difficult to finish off hitters, thus impacting his overall effectiveness.
Doubront’s fastball still sits in the low 90s, but he has made tremendous strides since the second six-run implosion on May 8. He has allowed three runs or fewer in each of his 10 starts since then, including two runs or fewer in eight of the 10 outings. On Friday, he held the Angels to two runs on five hits over 6 2/3 innings while picking up his fifth win.
Doubront’s strikeout totals have dropped a bit, yet he has become a better pitcher because of some key changes in his overall approach. It no longer appears that Doubront is trying to do too much. He has become much more aggressive, and he is pounding the strike zone much more frequently.
Walks will likely always be a part of Doubront’s repertoire, but he is attacking hitters more often, particularly early in counts. That has kept his pitch count down, allowing him to work deeper into games, and he’s becoming more effective as he adapts to his new pitching style.
The most frustrating part of Doubront’s velocity dip and early-season struggles was that everything checked out fine physically. Obviously, that’s a good thing, but it also made it difficult to pinpoint what exactly was plaguing the 25-year-old. He pushed through the shortcomings, however, and we’re essentially looking at a brand new pitcher who is willing to pitch to contact when necessary.
With Clay Buchholz sidelined, Jon Lester battling inconsistency and Allen Webster still getting his feet wet at the major league level, Doubront’s resurgence has provided a huge boost. Doubront might never evolve into a top-flight starter, but he is giving the Red Sox exactly what they need right now — some stability at the back end of the rotation.
The most revealing part of Friday’s outing against the Angels was how Doubront handled the adversity thrown his way. He got into trouble a few times, yet he didn’t let his frustration mount. Doubront had a potential out ricochet off his glove in the second inning, he gave up a leadoff triple in the third inning and he surrendered a game-tying home run in the fourth inning. All the while, umpire Laz Diaz’s strike zone created its own set of obstacles. Yet Doubront not only didn’t waver, but he also got stronger as the night went on.
Doubront retired 10 Angels hitters in a row after Howie Kendrick led off the fourth inning with a solo homer, and he walked off the mound with two outs in the seventh inning after a job well done. This time around, the Red Sox’ bullpen nailed down a win for the left-hander.
Doubront has a 2.87 ERA (19 earned runs in 59 2/3 innings) over his last 10 starts, dropping his season mark to 4.11. He only has two victories during that stretch, but he has consistently given the Red Sox a chance to win, and you can’t ask for much more out of your No. 5 starter.
There have been some bumps along the way, and Doubront once seemed destined to fail. He has been in cruise control of late, though, and the road looks a lot smoother now than it did back in May.