FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have a World Series championship and a no-hitter on their résumés. John Lackey has started a dozen playoff games in his career, and Ryan Dempster has thrown 200 or more innings seven times in his career.
But the most talented pitcher in the Red Sox rotation may be 25-year-old lefthander Felix Doubront, whose list of accomplishments would not take long to read.
After five seasons in the minors, Doubront had short stints with the Red Sox in 2010 and ’11 before earning a place in the rotation a year ago. He was 11-10 with a 4.86 earned run average, statistics that at face value were not particularly impressive.
But Doubront averaged 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings, the most on the staff. He also allowed 162 hits over 161 innings, impressive for a pitcher in his first full season as a starter.
Doubront threw a fastball that averaged just under 93 miles per hour and occasionally touched 96. Not bad considering he considers his curveball his best pitch.
“A lefthander who can throw 95 and keep the ball down? That is pretty special,” Dempster said. “With his stuff, he can overmatch a lot of people.”
Said manager John Farrell, “We internally are all in agreement. He’s got as much talent as anybody.”
But there are refinements to make. Doubront averaged four walks per nine innings, broke down physically in August, and frequently allowed himself to be distracted by what he considered poor calls by umpires.
He also angered Sox officials this year by showing up for spring training out of shape, which led to his missing a start early in camp. Doubront, who faces the Yankees Wednesday afternoon in Tampa, since has caught up and is lined up to be the No. 4 starter.
“Everybody has to learn as far as growing pains,” said Buchholz, who knows the feeling of wanting to live up to one’s talent. “You have to deal with some failure. He’s hard on himself, too. He wants everything to be perfect. Felix definitely has everything that you need to pitch for a long time.”
Doubront said he learned a lot last season, particularly about how to handle the grind. He feels he is better prepared for being part of a rotation.
“It’s a lot different than the minor leagues,” he said. “In the minor leagues, you can have two or three bad starts. In the big leagues, you can have a bad month. It took me a while to get out of it. But once I did, I finished pretty well.”
Doubront was 10-5 with a 4.37 ERA through the end of July. He was 0-3 with a 9.70 ERA in his next five starts, allowing opponents to hit .351.
That stretch included a stint on the disabled list for what the Red Sox said was a bruised knee. But it was much more than that.
“My body started breaking down and my arm wasn’t the same,” Doubront said. “It was hard on my mind, too. It’s tough when you feel that way. You want to do your best for yourself and your team.”
Doubront was sharp over his last four starts, posting a 3.08 ERA and striking out 31 over 26⅓ innings.
“That helped me a lot,” he said. “I needed that positive.”
Doubront has a series of things he wants to improve on this season. He plans to throw his changeup more, which he believes will help make his fastball even better. He also has taken to the idea of pitching coach Juan Nieves that he work at a quicker tempo.
“Juan sees things, all the little things,” Doubront said. “When you’re pitching, you can lose your mechanics a little bit and he sees that and can fix it fast. Tempo will help that.
“My last five starts, I worked with more tempo and less thinking. It was a good thing. I just concentrated on pitching. Just wait a few seconds and pitch. I was focused where I want to throw.”
Doubront also plans to show more respect to the umpires.
“This year is going to be different. I know that right away,” he said. “When I’m on the mound, I get so pumped. But I’m going to change that.
“I know I got too mad last year. You watch, it’s going to be a big difference. I’m going to stay calm. Just forget about it and throw the next pitch.”
Farrell believes the experience of last season, throwing those 161 innings and making 29 starts, will serve Doubront well.
“There’s no replacing that full cycle,” the manager said. “Your body is going to go through some things you might not have otherwise experienced at the minor league level, particularly when you add the intensity and the stress to the pitches thrown through the course of a given year.
“I’m sure there’s, in his mind, ways to tap back into that and use that as a strong reference point for him.”
Nieves and Farrell look at Doubront as a largely unfinished product. There is a lot there to work with and a lot to be done.
“There’s work to be done to strive for consistency, whether it’s game-to-game or inning-to-inning or finishing off hitters in a more efficient manner,” Farrell said. “That’s not because of a lack of attempt or trying. It’s just his further maturing as a pitcher.”
Red Sox senior adviser Bill James, in his projections for the season, sees Doubront with a 3.70 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. If those are accurate, or even close to it, Doubront will be more than a rough talent; he will be a starter the Red Sox can build around.
“I have to put more focus on working hard and being here for a long time,” said Doubront. “Even my mother has talked about that. I have to put more emphasis on that in the offseason, too. I need to come here ready to pitch. It’s easy to do.
“I look at the guys who are in the rotation. Those four starters, they’ve earned my respect. I look to follow them. If I learn from them now when I’m 25, when I’m 35, I’ll still be pitching in the big leagues.”