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What to do with Doubront?

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  January 28, 2011 09:39 PM

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There aren't too many questions in spring training for the Red Sox beyond seeing how those players who were injured last season look physically.

The rotation and lineup are set and it's pretty evident who will be on the bench barring injury. Most every slot in the bullpen is accounted for, too.

One intriguing question is what role is best for Felix Doubront.

The 23-year-old was effective in nine relief appearances last season, allowing nine hits and two walks over 9.2 innings while striking out 13. That's not much to go on, but Doubront is a lefty with a good fastball and he's not afraid to challenge hitters with it.

Doubront has been a starter since being signed out of Venezuela in 2005 and he's too young to make into a reliever. In time, the Red Sox want him to start. But in 2011, his biggest contribution could be out of the bullpen.

“He is a starting pitcher and came up last year and did a real good job out of the bullpen. That’s to be determined where that goes,” Terry Francona said. “Certainly in our meetings before spring training, we will spend a considerable amount of time on that. Theo (Epstein) needs to voice an opinion on how strongly he feels. Some of that may be determined how other (pitchers) do, too. We don’t want to slow down his development but we want to win here.”

Here's how Epstein broke it down:

“It depends on a number of factors. The health of our rotation, the performance of the other lefthanded candidates for the bullpen. How (Doubront) looks in camp and how much of a difference-maker we feel he will be in the pen versus the added security of having him start at Triple A.”

If one of the lefthanded relievers in camp looks good, then it makes sense for Doubront to start the season in Pawtucket, But Hideki Okajima, Rich Hill and the others aren't exactly an inspiring bunch.

In theory, Okajima could rebound. In theory, Hill may flourish in relief. In theory, Andrew Miller could fulfill his vast potential. But in practice do you want Okajima facing Josh Hamilton in a close game on April 1?

It's great to have depth, but with five starters signed through 2012, is it worth leaving Doubront in Pawtucket just in case he's needed or using him to help win games? The Sox already have Tim Wakefield as their No. 6 starter.

Doubront threw a total of 105 innings last season, 16 fewer than in 2009. If he is going to be a starter, the Sox will want him to build up to 130-135 innings this season. If he stays in the bullpen and throws 60-70 innings, that becomes harder.

Lots to consider and lots on the line. How it all plays out will be interesting to monitor. What is your take on the decision?

A few other notes from today:

Francona on Brian Cashman saying the Red Sox have the better team: “That’s not going to help us win a lot of games. I love Cash, but I don’t think that statement will get us any extra runs or anything. When people say that, it means our ownership and our front office had a really good winter. But once the season starts, now it’s time to go to work.”

Francona on all the snow: “It’s a bit much. The drivers here don’t do good with all four lanes. When it’s down to two, they’re really nasty.”

Epstein said the weather is a good reason to head down to Fort Myers early. “My back can’t take any more shoveling,” he said.

So there you go. Good luck getting tickets tomorrow and have a great weekend.

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