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Doubront shows his stuff

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 25, 2012
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JUPITER, Fla. - The Red Sox are not going to make any decisions about their rotation based on one day in spring training. That Felix Doubront pitched well against the Florida Marlins Saturday while Alfredo Aceves was getting rocked by the Philadelphia Phillies back in Fort Myers doesn’t necessarily put one ahead of the other.

“You have to look at the body of work,’’ manager Bobby Valentine said before the game. “I don’t know if today is a test. This stuff is so unfair.’’

But for Doubront, the game was another entry on a résumé that is impossible to ignore. He allowed one run over six innings to lift the Red Sox to a 4-1 victory before a sellout crowd at Roger Dean Stadium.

Doubront gave up five hits, walked one, and struck out two while throwing 53 of his 78 pitches for strikes.

“He filled up the strike zone with all four pitches,’’ said catcher Ryan Lavarnway. “He went right at guys. I haven’t seen him throw that well in a long time.’’

As Doubront cruised, Aceves lasted three innings against the Phillies, allowing nine runs on 10 hits, three of them home runs.

The other leading candidate for the rotation, Daniel Bard, will start against the Blue Jays in Dunedin Sunday.

Doubront has a 2.70 ERA in four spring starts and has improved steadily, giving up four earned runs in his last 14 2/3 innings. At 24, the lefthander appears on the verge of fulfilling the potential the organization long has believed he has.

“It’s a combination of good health and a sense of urgency,’’ pitching coach Bob McClure said. “He has to earn it, and that’s the way we’re looking at it. We’re just not giving it away.’’

Austin Kearns homered off Doubront in the second inning, but the lefty escaped a jam later in that inning with a double play.

In the fifth inning, Donovan Solano and former Sox infielder Nick Green started with singles. Doubront got pinch hitter Aaron Rowand to ground into a double play, then overmatched Emilio Bonafacio with a 94-m.p.h. fastball, getting him to ground weakly to shortstop.

“That’s what I was looking for,’’ Valentine said. “More than five innings, get ahead in the count, get outs early, don’t go 3-and-2. He kept his composure and pitched well. It was a positive outing.’’

Doubront threw only 87 2/3 innings last season. He reported to spring training in poor condition, strained his elbow early, and started the season on the disabled list.

Hamstring and groin injuries limited him to 18 appearances for Triple A Pawtucket. Only three times all season did Doubront pitch six or more innings, the last time on July 6.

That made Saturday’s outing a notable one, even if it was in spring training against a lineup with only three of the Marlins’ expected starters.

“Today was good for me,’’ said Doubront. “I performed well with Bobby and Mac here. That’s what I got, and the next time is going to be the same. I’m going to keep working and work hard for it.’’

Doubront used all of his pitches, changed speeds, and worked both sides of the plate. It was everything you want to see in a starter.

“To me, he looked like a pitcher as far as what he could throw, when he wanted to throw it, slow or hard,’’ said McClure. “That’s pitching.’’

Valentine was grinning as he spoke about Doubront.

“His stuff was moving so well, his cutter and his changeup,’’ said the manager. “It looked like Ryan could sit in the middle of the plate and have the cutter go in to righthanders and the changeup go away, and he had his curveball and a running fastball. It’s usable.’’

Doubront has spent part of two seasons in the majors but hasn’t stuck. Now, with him out of minor league options, this spring could represent his last chance to impress a team that signed him back in 2004 at the age of 16.

“I knew I had to show them what I could do,’’ Doubront said. “It was on my mind all winter. I worked hard, the hardest of my life.’’

Lavarnway, who caught Doubront at Pawtucket last season, saw the difference from the start of camp.

“I think a lot of stuff went wrong last year,’’ said Lavarnway. “It was really unfortunate. He took that and learned from it. He took a bad situation and made that into a positive the way he came out this year, not only physically but emotionally. He’s a better ballplayer.

“There was a certain look in his eye. He wants to not only pitch in the big leagues and be successful but be in the Boston Red Sox starting rotation.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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