There is little from this season that the Red Sox will look back on with any degree of satisfaction. The sooner they move on, the better everyone will be.
The trick is mining something of value from the experience, and that is where a player such as Felix Doubront can benefit.
The 24-year-old lefthander was a face in the crowd at the start of spring training, a pitcher with talent but no guarantee of a spot on the roster. Now, seven months later, the Red Sox have a starting pitcher who can be one of the pillars of their reconstruction.
Doubront pitched the best game of his young career Sunday in a 2-1 victory against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park.
Facing a team fighting to win the division, Doubront allowed one run on four hits over seven innings. He walked two and struck out a career-best 11 as the Sox avoided a three-game sweep.
Doubront did not get a victory, not that it really mattered. He has proven a larger point.
Doubront spent the last two seasons drifting between the majors and Triple A Pawtucket. He had three starts in 2010, but he pitched mostly in relief. There were concerns about his conditioning and commitment.
Now, 28 starts later, Doubront has shown he’s part of the future. A 4.91 earned run average doesn’t speak to his potential. That he has struck out 157 over 154 innings while allowing 155 hits does.
“I certainly hope that this has established him in his mind and in the mind of others that he’s a bona fide starting pitcher in the major leagues,” manager Bobby Valentine said. “I think it was just opportunity, and he made the best of that opportunity every time he got the ball.”
Doubront no-hit the Orioles for four innings Sunday, striking out seven. Baltimore had three consecutive hits to score a run in the fifth inning. But with runners on second and third and one out, Doubront stuck out Robert Andino looking at a fastball and Nate McLouth swinging at a changeup. When J.J. Hardy grounded to first, a big inning had been averted.
Doubront allowed only one other runner before leaving after 112 pitches. Doubront was the youngest Red Sox pitcher to strike out 11 since 23-year-old Aaron Sele in 1993.
The afternoon shadows across the infield helped. But Doubront also had overpowering stuff.
“You can’t take anything away from Doubront, he threw great,” said Baltimore’s Mark Reynolds, who struck out three times. “Kept us offbalance. Threw a lot of strikes. He pitched a good game.”
The Sox won the game with a run on back-to-back doubles by Dustin Pedroia and Cody Ross in the eighth inning. That gave the win to Junichi Tazawa, who pitched a scoreless top of the inning. Andrew Bailey left three runners stranded in the ninth to get his sixth save.
But it was Doubront who did the heavy lifting. He has allowed six earned runs over 19⅓ innings in his last three starts and struck out 21.
“It’s important to finish strong,” he said. “I learned a lot during the whole year. I had a lot of challenges that I learned from. Next year, when I get in those situations, it’s going to be easy for me.”
With an above-average fastball, a sharp curveball, and an improving changeup, Doubront has the ability. His problem is letting game situations or missed pitches by the umpire become distracting.
“He has to understand that the only competition that matters is the hitter,” Valentine said. “He fights himself sometimes; he fights the umpire sometimes; the conditions [and] the play made behind him. That’s in the learning process.
“There have been some situations, I think, where there’s been examples set here that aren’t the right example. I think he has to get over that.”
By that, Valentine is referring to other starting pitchers, some with the team and others not. Doubront, the manager said, is learning to follow his own path.
“He’s getting there,” Valentine said. “He’s not hearing it anymore, he’s saying it. It’s always better when someone can recite what you’ve been preaching.”
Doubront agreed with that idea.
“Mentally, it’s a big part,” he said. “I have great stuff but sometimes I lost focus. Those [last] three outings, I came back strong.”
Valentine also would like to see Doubront turn his experience into more production on the field. The lefty, he said, walks too many hitters after getting ahead in the count.
“He’s a smart kid and he’s a very competitive kid. When he understands how to attack certain hitters, it’s going to be easier to throw less pitches and get more strikeouts and less walks,” Valentine said.
Doubront is expected to make one more start. Then he can go into the offseason knowing he has a place in the rotation.
“I keep telling him how good he is,” pitching coach Randy Niemann said. “Hopefully he realizes it, and I think he does.”