BOSTON — If you were to rewind back three months ago and watch the Felix Doubront of then, it would be hard to see any of this coming.
Then, it was tough to watch the Red Sox lefty. A disastrous start in Texas on May 3, when he was shelled for six runs on 12 hits in just 3 2/3 innings, was the root of the problem. Five days later, it compounded when he gave up another six runs on 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings of relief. The only way to go was up for a sunken Doubront.
Nowadays, though, those memories seem long forgotten, nothing but a minor detour on the road of what has quite frankly been an under-appreciated, underrated season. Despite those deficiencies at the beginning of the year, the lefty has turned the corner — and then some. He’s keeping his pitch counts low, controlling his walk rate and keeping batters in check better than he ever has before.
Sunday was no different. Doubront was every bit as good as he’s been billed to become from start to finish of his seven-inning, shutout victory against the Diamondbacks. Even when the going got a little bit tough in the seventh inning — when he appeared to experience some pain in his right abdomen after allowing two runners on and one out — he battled. He fought through any kind of pain he was having, struck out Wil Nieves, then got Gerardo Parra to ground out to end the threat as he exited to a standing ovation from the Fenway Park faithful.
“First pitch strikes were a little elusive, but he was able to go to a breaking ball or a changeup to get the timing back on his delivery and still maintain a lot of efficiency,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said of his starter’s performance. “A couple of key double plays that he was able to get had a number of fastballs that they chased up for some strikeouts.
“Just a workman-like, solid, seven shutout innings for him.”
They haven’t all been shutouts — in fact, only two now have — but that workman-like attitude has been one that’s been on display for most of this season, even if it’s barely been noticed. Putting the team’s major league-leading run-scoring offense aside for a moment, it’s certainly hard to imagine the Red Sox being in first place in the division without Doubront, which is saying a lot for a back-end starter.
A quick look at the numbers even reveals that Doubront may be the most consistent starter on the Red Sox’ staff. With his performance Sunday, Doubront has now allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his last 15 starts. Only Tim Wakefield, with 17 in the 1995 season, has done that more, and Doubront has done it in 19 of his 20 starts this season.
If that’s not enough, then also consider that in those 15 starts since May 16, Doubront has posted a 2.55 ERA, which is 10th best in the majors. To put that in perspective, it’s better than Yu Darvish (2.62), who some consider to be a Cy Young candidate.
The numbers, really, speak for themselves. In a pitching staff that’s been good but not great, Doubront has certainly made a case as the most consistent of the bunch. John Lackey has certainly had a bounce-back year, but he hasn’t been quite as dependable. Neither Jon Lester or Ryan Dempster have been as consistently good, either. Certainly, Clay Buchholz was pitching well enough to take the title, but he hasn’t played since June 8 due to injury. And Jake Peavy just arrived to Boston last week.
So, with all things considered, Doubront has been the steadiest arm in the Red Sox rotation this season. Three months ago today, that seemed crazy to think.
“He’s really stepped it up for us and become one of our top pitchers at a good time,” Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “We need this. We got a month and a half, two months left, and we’ve got to keep going hard, and everyone’s going to step up.”
And with the playoff push heating up, the Red Sox will look to Doubront to keep answering that call.