FORT MYERS, Fla. Felix Doubront's first start of the spring, set for Saturday night at Boston College, would be significant enough given that the lefty is in competition with about a half-dozen other pitchers for the final spot in the Red Sox rotation.
But when you factor in that it's the start of a new season and a full step away from a forgettable 2011, it's truly noteworthy.
"I was thinking today," said a smiling Doubront, "that I'm a little bit excited to throw the ball again."
Doubront's 2011 season got off to a bad start and never got much better. After one of his first long-toss sessions last spring, he felt some tenderness in his left elbow and was shut down for a period of a few weeks.
He lost valuable time during exhibition play, taking him out of the battle for the major league staff. It would not be the last time that injuries interrupted his year.
He later had left groin and right hamstring pulls sideline him at Pawtucket. Each time, he was on the verge of being promoted to Boston to help out the major league staff. Each time, he missed the opportunity.
"I was close," he said ruefully, "and (the injuries) ruined it."
Called up when rosters expanded in September, Doubront, 24, managed to get into 11 games covering 10 13 innings, but it wasn't the kind of impact that Doubront had planned to make in 2011.
Healthy after a throwing program in the off-season, Doubront is in the crowded mix for the rotation, battling not only another lefty (Andrew Miller) and a righthanded holdover (Alfredo Aceves), but also some veteran free agents singed by the club this winter (Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, Carlos Silva and Ross Ohlendorf).
Like most of the others, Doubront has pitched in relief, too, but for now, his goal is aimed squarely at the rotation.
"There's a lot of competition, tough competition," he said. "But I'm going to go out there and do my job and work hard and show them that I want the fifth spot in the rotation."
Complicating matters at least a little bit is the fact that Doubront (like Miller) is out of options, meaning the Red Sox can't send him back to Triple A Pawtucket without first exposing him to waivers.
That may work to his benefit, since the Sox, like any any other organization, value talented, young lefties who can throw in the mid-90s.
"I have to make the team," said of his situation. "That's a challenge for me."
Most of Doubront's 23 major league appearances have come in relief, but he's mostly started in the minors and feels that's the best showcase for his ability.
"I've got my four pitches, including a new one, a cutter," said Doubront. "I think I have more options to (help) as a starter. I like relieving, too. I like the adrenaline (that comes with pitching out of the bullpen). But as a starter, you have more time (to figure
"For now, I'm a starter."
Starting Saturday night.