TORONTO — Felix Doubront remained the most consistent starting pitcher of the Red Sox on Saturday, pitching well into the seventh inning of a 7-4 victory.
Backed by the stellar relief of Andrew Miller, Vicente Padilla and Alfredo Aceves, the Red Sox won for the 16th time in 22 games and moved to within two games of first.
Nick Punto, Ryan Sweeney and Will Middlebrooks all drove in runs for the Sox, who continued to pile up runs in the absence of Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Cody Ross.
Now there's three paragraphs you never expected to read this season.
How about Prince Felix? The No. 4 starter has pitched like an ace. Doubront is 6-2 with a 3.75 earned run average. The Red Sox are 8-3 in the games he has started.
“You're seeing a guy that's just kind of growing up in front of us. He's going to be an unbelievable pitcher for a long time,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said.
Saltalamacchia is prone to hyperbole when it comes to his pitchers. But there is ample evidence to suggest Doubront is more than a nondescript pitcher on a good streak.
He is averaging 9.53 strikeouts per nine innings, the third best rate in the American League. Doubront struck out seven on Saturday over 6.1 innings and walked one.
He’s also improving. Doubront has a 2.72 ERA in his last six starts, going deeper into the games and cutting back on his walks.
“He’s only 24,” fellow starter Daniel Bard said. “He had a couple of rough years and some injuries. But he’s still at a place where he’s going to learn more and get more comfortable. I don’t think we’ve seen his best yet.”
Manager Bobby Valentine, a Doubront proponent from the start of spring training, also believes that to be true.
“I think he has room for improvement,” Valentine said. “He’s going to learn more about this league and more about himself and continue to improve. He’s got a dynamite fastball.”
As to other matters:
• It's easy to crack on Nick Punto and this space is guilty as charged. But the guy rarely played and it was unfair to expect him to suddenly get his timing down just because Pedroia hurt his thumb.
Punto had an RBI double in the second inning, a single in the seventh and a long solo home run to right field in the ninth. It was his first home run of the season and the 15th of his career.
Punto has been taking extra swings to try and regain his timing and make up for his lack of opportunities on the field.
“For me, this is definitely a chance,” he said. “I’ve been a utility player in the past but being a utility player in the National League or for [the Twins], I’ve played quite a bit. Here, there’s Kevin Youkilis and Pedroia and these guys play every day. It’s something I’m going to have to get used to.”
Punto’s teammates gave him the silent treatment in the dugout after his home run. The veteran is very popular in the clubhouse.
“It was fun,” Punto said. “I said, ‘Come give me some love. I’ve been playing this game a while and that’s only my 15th home run.’ ”
• The Sox have won 42 of their last 67 games against Toronto. … Red Sox leadoff hitters have 39 RBIs, eight in the last six games. Going into Saturday’s games, no other team had more than 27 RBIs from their leadoff hitters. … The Sox are 15-11 on the road, 14-6 in their last 20 games away from Fenway Park.
• Darnell McDonald is heating up in Pawtucket. He was 2 for 4 with a double in the first game of a doubleheader at Lehigh Valley. He is 1 for 2 with a double in the second game so far.
• Ryan Kalish was 0 for 2 with two walks in his second game for Portland. He played center field. He has played five rehab games in all and is 5 of 18.