Felix Doubront’s Return Leaves Red Sox With Lingering Rotation Questions

Felix DoubrontFelix Doubront’s first major league start in a month wasn’t bad. It also wasn’t very good.

Doubront overcame a three-run yield in the first inning of Friday night’s 4-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics to give the Boston Red Sox 4 2/3 innings before handing the ball over to the bullpen. The effort, while not awful, was relatively uninspiring at a time when a couple of major rotation decisions loom for the Red Sox.

It looked like Doubront was in for a long evening Friday after surrendering a three-run homer to Josh Donaldson in the first inning. Doubront threw 28 pitches in the opening frame, and his fastball velocity sat at around 87 to 90 mph. Much of what plagued Doubront before the southpaw landed on the disabled list with a left shoulder strain back on May 21 reared its ugly head as the Red Sox stumbled out of the gate.

To Doubront’s credit, he rebounded to keep the A’s off the scoreboard while allowing only one hit over the next 3 2/3 innings. He finished with four walks and a hit batter while throwing 90 pitches, though, so it wasn’t as if he settled into an uninterrupted groove despite the overall improvement he showed after the first inning.

“We got him to what we felt like was a comfortable pitch count, and unfortunately, it’s only into the fifth inning,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after the game. “I thought he got a little bit stronger as the game went on, particularly with a better tempo and a better rhythm. But still, felt like in the fifth, him getting to his pitch count and the matchup that we had at that point was probably in our favor with (Derek) Norris against (Burke) Badenhop. But Felix went out and gave us what he could tonight.”

Doubront exited in the fifth inning after issuing a two-out walk to Donaldson. Badenhop entered and provided two scoreless innings before handing the ball to Andrew Miller, who closed off a threat in the seventh inning. Miller faltered in the eighth inning as a result of two hit batters and an RBI single by Coco Crisp that broke a 3-3 tie. Doubront didn’t factor into the decision.

Doubront’s diminished velocity perhaps was the most discouraging aspect of Friday’s start, as it’s an issue the 26-year-old downplayed leading up to the outing. Doubront, whose fastball consistently touched 93-\ to 94 mph as recently as 2012, saw his velocity dip last season and again this season, but he has insisted of late that he still can feel the power building to the point where he’ll regain the zip he possessed in 2012.

The Red Sox must decide what to do with Doubront, particularly when Clay Buchholz returns and Boston has seven starters up for five spots. Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa have pitched well in their short stints with the major league club, but Doubront is out of minor league options. Assuming the Red Sox want to keep Doubront, they could either proceed with him in the rotation despite being outperformed by the others or send him to the bullpen at the expense of someone within that unit.

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said earlier this week that the current situation represents a good problem to have, which is true, although a so-so performance like Friday’s doesn’t really help to clarify things.

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