Felix Doubront Needs to Take Next Step, Evolve From Groundhog Day Outings of 2012


Felix Doubront Needs to Take Next Step, Evolve From Groundhog Day Outings of 2012

Editor's note: NESN.com is going to tell the story of the 2012 Red Sox in Bobby Valentine's words. Each game day, we will select a Valentine quote that sums up the day for the Red Sox.

Felix Doubront has about as much pure "stuff" as any pitcher in baseball.

The 24-year-old left-hander features an almost inumerable number of pitches — two and four-seam fastballs, a sinker, a cutter, a changeup, a curveball and a slider — which all have wicked movement, and can touch the mid-90s with a minimal amount of effort. When Doubront is locked in, he is capable of being as dominant as any pitcher in baseball.

However, listing Doubront's main issues as a starting pitcher begins to sound like a broken record to anyone who's read or written about the lefty throughout the season. And Tuesday was a microcosm for everything that Doubront is about in technically his rookie season.

Doubront cruised through the first two innings, retiring six of the first seven Rays he faced. Then came the third inning, where the southpaw walked the bases loaded with one out — all the walks were consecutive — before yielding a Ben Zobrist two-RBI single and an Evan Longoria sac fly.

Starting that that sacrifice, however, Doubront managed to put down 11 of the last 12 batters he faced, sandwhiching brilliant pitching around an inning where he seemed to completely lose control of what he was trying to do out on the mound — both with his arm and in his mind.

"I saw [Doubront] lose his command and I saw him lose his composure a little bit in the third inning," said manager Bobby Valentine after Boston's 7-5 victory over Tampa Bay. "Three runs later he buckled down and just gave up [one] hit, and that's a pretty good outing. He deserved to win."

Felix Doubront Needs to Take Next Step, Evolve From Groundhog Day Outings of 2012The problem is, though Doubront suffered a rough two months while trying to earn his 11th victory of the season — his 10th coming in a July 18 start against the White Sox — it's difficult to look at Tuesday's outing as a step forward. As well as Doubront pitched as compared to most of the past couple moons, he further proved that until he can improve his command and his composure out on the hill, there's a definitive ceiling to how good he can be — in spite of how limitless his potential actually is.

In short, it was the same old story for Doubront — suffer one bad frame, run up the pitch count throughout the contest and fail to work deep into the ballgame. Doubront absolutely has the stuff to get away with far more mistakes than most of his major league counterparts, but in his first season he's thoroughly taking after the Daisuke Matsuzaka school on pitching — nibbling and trying to get hitters to chase rather than challenging them.

The thing is, Doubront always says the right things to reporters after he pitches. He always acknowledges that his job is to get his pitch count down and work deeper into ballgames, and he always takes responsibility for those times, like Tuesday, when he can lose his cool on the mound. Moreover, if you were to not watch the game or see the score, it would be impossible to tell whether the Red Sox won or lost only going on Doubront's postgame demeanor — which speaks very highly of his character.

All that being said, it will be up to Doubront to take the next step in the 2013 season. Throughout 2012 he's been the pitcher he is, and we haven't seen much progress or much regression, either. But Doubront clearly knows what he needs to do, now it's up to him whether he's going to utilize that great talent or remain stagnant.

With Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester definitely slated for rotation spots in 2013, having Doubront make that jump and become the pitcher he's capable of would give Boston a potentially dominant top three  in the rotation. That's the way you remake yourself into a contender overnight.

So, again, now it's all on Doubront. Is he capable of implementing his own plan, or is he destined for the Groundhog Day outings he's posted throughout 2012?

The Red Sox' ability to compete next year may well depend on the answer to that question.

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