McAdam: Another strange start from Doubront

McAdam: Another strange start from Doubront
April 23, 2013, 11:30 am
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BOSTON -- Who, exactly, is Felix Doubront?
     
Is he the pitcher who has averaged more than a strikeout per inning in his major-league career? Or the pitcher who routinely seems incapable of throwing strikes?
     
Is he the starter who most everyone in the Red Sox organization believes has the best stuff of anyone in the rotation? Or the one who seldom gets through six innings?
     
Is he the intense competitor who thrives under pressure? Or does he come to camp out of shape, having failed to prepare himself for the season ahead?
     
Doubront, of course, is all of these things, good and bad at once, as was the case Monday night at a frigid, windswept Fenway Park.
     
Consider: Doubront pitched 6 2/3 innings in the Red Sox' 9-6 victory over the Oakland A's. In five of the seven innings he pitched -- the first, third, fourth, sixth and seventh -- he faced 15 hitters and retired 14 of them. A one-out walk to Josh Donaldson in the fifth was the lone baserunner he allowed.
     
But in the other two innings, Doubront was seemingly a completely different pitcher. In the second, he issued a leadoff walk to Jed Lowrie, and one out later, gave up a double to Donaldson. A wild pitch -- the first of two on the night -- scored Lowrie from third and sent Donaldson to third, from where he scored on a single by Josh Reddick.
     
It was worse in the fifth.
     
Thanks to Will Middlebrooks' three-run homer in the bottom of the fourth, Doubront was pitching with a lead for the first time. But he proceeded to walk two of the first three hitters -- and three of the first five -- he faced, to go along with another wild pitch, a single and a sacrifice fly.
     
His last start -- which, in his defense, was made on 10 days' rest -- was similarly frustrating at times. Given a 7-0 lead after Cleveland's Ubaldo Jimenez melted down in the second, Doubront should have attacked the strike zone.
     
Instead, he nibbled, issuing a walk in third, another in the fourth and two more in the fifth. On a night when Doubront should have been aggressive, he allowed the Indians to put the ball in play and was done after five innings, his pitch count at an unsightly 104.
     
That start, again, could have been chalked up the long layoff that resulted from John Lackey's injury, a rainout and a re-shuffling of the rotation.
     
But there were no such excuses Monday night, and still Doubront was maddening at times.
     
"After they scored their two runs (in the second) and bunched their hits together," said John Farrell, "I thought [Doubront] got into a very good rhythm (in the third and fourth innings), much like we stressed in spring training. His tempo was good, it was quick, he was getting good action to his changeup.
     
"But I think in that fifth inning, I think there was probably a loss of focus on his part."
     
Doubront had another perspective.
     
"I changed my mechanics a little bit," said Doubront about the fifth, "and I couldn't find [the right release point]. Those walks, I was thinking too much. What I realized was that I was behind the rubber. I thought, 'Just throw the ball, let it go.' It took me a couple of walks and a run, but it was nice to minimize the damage."
     
Every start seems to have one of those moments, enough to make you wonder whether Doubront will ever take that next step and become an elite starter.
     
The stuff is there. So, too, is the competitive nature -- at times.
     
"Would I be worried about Doubront in a big game at Yankee Stadium?" asked a Red Sox official in spring training. "Hell, no."
     
Indeed, Doubront seemed to thrive against the Yankees in 2012, a year in which the Sox weren't competitive with anyone.
     
But for every flash of potential, for every glimpse at how good Doubront can be, there are innings like the fifth inning Monday night, a reminder that, for all the promise, he is far from a finished product.