BOSTON Felix Doubront has been a great story for the Red Sox while serving as the only member of the Sox rotation thats consistently exceeded expectations all season.
The rookie lefty leads the Sox with 10 wins and is tied with Jon Lester for the team lead with 11 quality starts. But it also appears Doubront is now hitting an innings pitched wall thats always a hazard for young hurlers, and thats an apt description for what happened to him in the decisive fifth inning of Thursday nights 5-3 loss to the Indians at Progressive Field.
The lefty had retired nine batters in a row and was protecting a 3-1 lead in the fifth, and had managed to improvise his way through the Cleveland lineup without his good fastball. Instead Doubront was living on curveballs and changeups, but that eventually caught up to him when five straight Tribe hitters reached base including a pair courtesy of bases on balls.
It was unlike the Doubront that had built up a 10-5 record heading into the loss and boasted a perfect 5-0 record against the AL Central before falling to the Indians.
From the get-go he wasnt really feeling it. Hes usually on the ball with control and getting ahead of hitters to attack them, said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. I felt like tonight he fell behind a lot of guys. The last inning he couldnt get ahead and stay ahead.
This was not him from the get-go. He has that guy who has the demeanor like this is my game and he doesnt get rattled. But it seemed like tonight he was trying to find his mechanics a little bit. But he battled for us.
The big blow was a Carlos Santana single to left field that tied the game at 3-3 and knocked Doubront out after only 4 13 innings and 94 pitches.
Andrew Miller replaced him, and a Michael Brantley sacrifice fly to throwing elbow-challenged Carl Crawford led to an easy sacrifice fly for the game-winning run that plated Asdrubal Cabrera.
Doubront was frustrated by his spotty fastball command and his out-of-whack mechanics, but a bigger concern for the Red Sox has to be his innings pitched total. Doubront stands at 122 23 innings after Thursdays loss, and its the second-most innings hes ever piled up in his career.
Worse than that its a 35-inning jump over last years workload, and thats typically when things start to get a little iffy for the long term health and well-being of a young starting pitcher. The first thing to usually go for a pitcher suffering from workload fatigue is typically fastball command, and that was the clear issue for Doubront in defeat.
Hes now 1-2 with a 6.35 ERA in his last four starts for the Sox, and Sox manager Bobby Valentine couldnt deny that perhaps his high innings pitched total at this point in a long year is a part of it all.
He didnt have command of his fastball. Salty did a pretty good job of mixing all the other pitchers in there to help get him through it, admitted Valentine. We wound up with a ground ball that wasnt hit to anybody, its a tie ballgame and hes out of there.
Maybe its fatigue. His command isnt quite what it was.
So whats the solution?
At some point the Sox might have to think about either A) shutting Doubront down entirely as the team continues to float away from a playoff spot or B) potentially shifting him in the bullpen where he can lighten the total workload on his prized left arm for the remaining seven weeks of the regular season.
Doubront doesnt want to admit fatigue might be creeping into his game, but then again what professional athlete would embrace that kind of a notion with a team struggling to stay afloat.
It was pretty rough. I dont feel like I was throwing my fastball like I did before, said Doubront. It was from the very first inning. I struggled in the fifth. I cant do nothing about it now.
Im not tired at all. I feel pretty good. I just have to figure out a couple of things and go get them in my next start.
Doubront has enjoyed a rare feel-good season among any number of Sox players around him that have suffered down years. The organization might want to tread lightly with a talented young pitching asset who has done yeomans work for them this year, and heed the warning signs that are beginning to crop up for Doubront.