Doubront struggles with command, possible fatigue

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Doubront struggles with command, possible fatigue

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.

Pomeranz gives up three runs in Red Sox loss to Blue Jays

Pomeranz gives up three runs in Red Sox loss to Blue Jays

Starter Drew Pomeranz gives up three runs on five hits in four innings of work in the Red Sox' 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday.

Lou Merloni breaks down Pomeranz's start and explains why he should be in the starting rotation to begin the season.

Sox' lack of homegrown starters an understandable problem to Yanks' Cashman

Sox' lack of homegrown starters an understandable problem to Yanks' Cashman

The dearth of homegrown starting pitching for the Red Sox is talked about almost as much as every Tom Brady post on Instagram.

Red Sox fans may take some solace in knowing their team isn’t the only one dealing with this problem.

In an interview with MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman didn’t talk about his team’s pitching problems in context of the Red Sox. But the explanation the longtime Yanks boss offered should sound familiar. 

In the biggest of markets, time to develop properly is scarce.

“Yeah. It's a fact,” Cashman said when asked if criticism of their pitching development was fair. “I think part of the process has been certainly where we draft. Because we've had a lot of success, we've not been allowed to tank and go off the board and therefore get access to some of the high-end stuff that plays out to be impactful. Part of it is we can't get out of our own way because we don't have the patience to let guys finish off their development, because if you possess some unique ability that stands out above everybody else -- whether it was Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, now [Luis] Severino and before that [Bryan] Mitchell and Shane Greene -- we're pulling them up before their development is finished.

“Teams like Tampa Bay, for instance, they're going to wait until they have their four pitches down and their innings limits are all exceeded at the minor-league level; they're very disciplined in that approach as they finish off their starters. For us, if I'm looking at my owner and he says, ‘What's our best team we can take north?’ 

“Well, ‘We could take this guy; he's not necessarily 100 percent finished off, but we can stick him in our 'pen. He can be in the back end of our rotation, because he's better than some of the guys we already have,’ and then you cut corners, so I think that probably plays a role in it.”

Not everything is circumstantial, though -- or a deflection. 

“And sometimes we don't make the right decisions, either, when we're making draft selections and signings and stuff like that,” Cashman continued. “On top of it all, playing in New York is a lot different than playing anywhere else.”

We’ve heard that last part about Boston too, here and there.

Cashman was complimentary of his current Sox counterpart, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, whose team Cashman has compared to the Golden State Warriors.

On his feelings when he first heard the Sox were getting Chris Sale:

“When that trade was consummated, that was the first thing I thought about, which was, 'Wow, look at what they've done,' ” Cashman said. “I know how it's going to play out for them. Listen, Steve Kerr does a great job managing that team -- oh, I mean John Farrell. It's a lot of talent and with talent comes pressure to perform. I think Dave Dombrowski has done everything he possibly can to provide that city with a world championship team. They've got 162 games to show it.”