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A red flag for Felix Doubront?

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  January 22, 2013 01:51 PM

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Tom Verducci, the excellent baseball writer for Sports Illustrated, has his annual story on the Year-After Effect out today.

Verducci lists those young (25 and under) pitchers whose innings increased by 30 or more from their previous professional high. Based on protocols established by Rick Peterson and Verducci's years of tracking the data, these pitchers are in danger of injury or regression.

Red Sox lefty Felix Doubront is on the list. He threw 31.2 innings more than his previous high.

Does this mean Doubront will get injured or pitch poorly? Obviously not. But it does mean he bears watching.

Doubront's previous professional high came back in in 2008 when he pitched in Class A ball and went 129.1 innings. Here what his workload has looked like:

2005: 64.2 innings (minors)
2006: 64.2 innings (minors)
2007: 77.1 innings (minors)
2008: 129.1 innings (minors)
2009: 121 innings (minors)
2010: 105 innings (25 in majors)
2011: 77.1 innings (10.1 in majors)
2012: 161 innings (all in majors)

The Red Sox did a smart thing in August and put Doubront on the DL with what they said was a knee contusion. He didn't pitch from Aug. 9 to Aug. 26. Once he returned, Doubront had two short outings before building back up to seven innings for his last two starts.

He struck out 21 in his last 14 innings with three walks. Doubront told me after his last start (on Sept. 29 at Baltimore) that his arm felt great.

Doubront had a tough 2011, showing up for spring training out of shape. That led to a series of injuries and he didn't pitch well. He was a changed man last year, arriving in Fort Myers in excellent condition and well ahead of the rest of the starters. He earned a place on the roster and pitched well beyond expectations.

Ben Cherington is confident that Doubront will bounce back well this season.

"It's something we discuss with any young pitcher who sees an increase in innings but we have no specific concerns about Doubront and no reason he shouldn’t be full go for season," he said.

The other interesting aspect of this is the depth the Red Sox have assembled.

If Doubront stumbles or needs some time off, Franklin Morales and Alfredo Aceves are available. The Sox also have two high-ceiling prospects in Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster along with guys like Chris Hernandez, Steven Wright and Drake Britton.

Last year, when the Sox needed rotation replacements, they had the likes of Aaron Cook and Daisuke Matsuzaka waiting. Now they can fill in the gaps with pitchers building for the future, not trying to capture the past.

My belief is that Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz will pitch well under John Farrell and Juan Nieves. Ryan Dempster is probably good for 33 starts, 200 innings and will win his share. How Doubront pitches could well determine whether the Sox can contend.

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