The Tampa Bay Rays ripped apart the Red Sox during Grapefruit League play in March, going 5-0-1 (the teams ran out of pitchers in a 9-9 tie) while outscoring Boston 50-31. The Rays scored at least six runs in every game, averaging 8.3 against Sox pitching.
That was one set of results that may have signaled something for the future — entering Wednesday, Tampa Bay was tied atop the AL East and ranked third in the majors behind New York and Boston in runs scored.
But nestled amid that run of Fort Myers futility was one gem that the Sox hope is also a sign of things to come.
In a 7-0 loss to the Rays on March 16, 22-year-old left-hander Felix Doubront shut out the Rays regulars for three innings on a Port Charlotte afternoon that left anyone who was paying attention very impressed. Facing the Crawfords and Longorias of the baseball world, Doubront allowed just a hit and a walk and showed none of the issues that had plagued Boston hurlers in such matchups that month.
"He was a fun kid to watch this spring," Sox manager Terry Francona said of Doubront, who tossed seven scoreless innings overall during Grapefruit League play with the big club.
Francona and everyone else will see how fun he is to watch Friday night at Fenway, where Doubront is slated to make his major league debut against Manny Ramirez and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Although no move will be official until before game time Friday, Francona confirmed Wednesday that Doubront will be brought forth from Triple-A Pawtucket to take the start of Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Saturday.
It’ll be quite a stage for Doubront, with national media following Ramirez’s every move in his return to the Fens. Given how the southpaw has handled everything so far, confidence in his ability to handle it all is high.
"[Pitching coach John Farrell] loves him. Absolutely loves him," Francona added. "When he says that it gets my attention. He’s been on this kid since the first side we saw him throw."
Doubront has given Sox brass no reason to turn away from that initial enthusiasm. After starting 4-0 with a 2.51 ERA in eight starts for Double-A Portland, the Venezuela native has dominated Triple-A opponents — in four starts at that level, he is 2-1 with a 1.08 mark. Featuring a plus fastball “with finish” and an improving arsenal of secondary pitches, he has yet to allow a home run in 59 2/3 innings this year between both levels.
When he takes the mound at Fenway, Doubront will not only be rewarded for such outstanding success but also perhaps give the club an indication of how he will handle such situations going forward.
"I think it’s another one of those where we’re excited. We got a young kid coming that’s got a chance to impact our future but in the meantime help us to win now," Francona said. "That makes us excited. … I think there’s a lot to learn and a lot that can help, and ultimately we want to win the game, but there’s a lot of good that can come of this."
If spring training is any indication, plenty of good can come of it.
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