With Clay Buchholz clawing his way back to the Red Sox' rotation, likely within the next week, Felix Doubront's time with the big club may be nearing an end. If and when he returns to Triple-A Pawtucket, he will do so armed with not only a new pitch, but plenty of experience that will help him down the road.
Even in a losing effort Friday night at Fenway Park, Doubront, using a cut fastball he developed in the past five days, again displayed the pitching acumen and gamesmanship that has made him a prized prospect for the organization. If not for his own two errors and a one-hour rain delay he had to sit through, the results would've been a whole lot better.
For now, it's another step forward for the 23-year-old left-hander, who has made a strong impression over the past month.
"He's got a great feel, a great aptitude for pitching," manager Terry Francona said. "He's gonna be good. He's got a bright future."
In each of his three starts with the Sox, Doubront's effort was never quite as bad as the bottom line might have suggested, something of which the organization is keenly aware.
In his first outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers back in June, Doubront allowed a pair of unearned runs on one of his own errors, and then hit the wall in the sixth inning after the Sox had scored seven times in the bottom of the fifth. He admitted after the game that it was hard to stay loose during Boston's long rally, and it showed when Doubront failed to retire a batter in the sixth.
Still, he got the win in his major league debut amid the hoopla of Manny Ramirez's return to Fenway.
Against Tampa Bay a few weeks later, again Doubront ran into difficulties in the sixth, issuing three of his four walks in that frame before being removed. But he only allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings while pitching in an AL East rivals' park during the heat of a division race.
Again, a promising performance.
Facing the Rangers and the rain, Doubront may have shown the Sox he has what it takes, even if the bottom line in an 8-4 loss again looks uneven.
Doubront overcame two more unearned runs in the first (again on his own error) and the long rain delay to take a 3-2 lead into the fifth. When he snagged a Josh Hamilton liner for the second out of the inning and wheeled to try to double off a runner at second, it looked as if Doubront would complete five innings again and be in line for his second major league win.
The throw to second was off, though, and sailed into center field, setting up a massive two-out rally for Texas that spoiled an otherwise quality effort by Doubront. Fellow Pawtucket call-up Fernando Cabrera came on and walked in a run before giving up a grand slam to Bengie Molina, which proved to be the difference.
The rushed throw by Doubront opened the door. He has now learned that major league lineups will walk right through if given the chance.
"We talk all the time about giving them extra opportunities," Francona said. "That probably played out the worst it could. We got a chance to walk off the field, which would've been a great play, come off the field, instead gotta keep letting them hit and it unraveled."
Doubront was hunched over on the mound when Francona came to get him. Some thought he might have been hurt catching the line drive while falling back toward the mound. Fortunately for the injury-depleted Sox, that was not the case.
"A little bit frustrated," Doubront said of his emotions at the time.
Frustrated, perhaps, but with another bit of wisdom in his pocket that someday will pay dividends. The three starts have offered plenty of those.
"I take a lot [back]," Doubront said. "If I go to Pawtucket, I'm gonna keep working and attacking hitters."
When he does, Doubront will be armed with his cutter, modeled in part after Jon Lester, who has utilized his with increasing efficiency this year. To break it out in such a short period of time and get some positive results gave his teammates another reason to be impressed.
"He developed a little cut fastball that was very effective," catcher Kevin Cash said. "To be able to use that his first time throwing it against the Texas Rangers, that's pretty good."
Pretty good is an apt description for Doubront's three-start stint with the Sox, which leaves him 1-2 with a respectable 4.11 ERA. It may be part of what someday makes him great.