ARLINGTON, Texas — Felix Doubront consistently threw his fastball 92-93 m.p.h. last season with occasional flashes of 96. The velocity helped make his curveball more effective and stamped the lefthander as a starter the Red Sox could rely on.
After only five starts this season, it’s evident that something is wrong with Doubront. He says it’s not an injury, which may actually be bad news. At least then the Red Sox would know how to proceed.
Doubront didn’t get through four innings against the Texas Rangers Friday night in a game the Red Sox lost, 7-0. The 12 hits he allowed were the most of his career. Doubront was charged with six of the runs.
When Doubront reached back to put something extra on a pitch, his body betrayed him. His best fastballs hit 91. Far more were 88-89. Seven of the nine Texas starters had hits against Doubront.
Half of the hits Doubront gave up came on two-strike counts. He could not put hitters away.
“You want a little bit more velocity and it’s not there,” Doubront said. “Sometimes I find I don’t have that power to get the swing and miss and go in hard with the hitters.”
Doubront insisted it’s not a physical issue.
“It’s weird, man. It’s nothing that’s bothering me,” he said. “It’s so weird. I can’t explain it.”
It may not be that much of a mystery. Doubront threw 161 innings last season, 73.1 more than he did in 2011. The 25-year-old then reported to spring training out of shape and had his first start delayed.
It’s not atypical for young pitchers who dramatically increase their innings to pay for it a year later. That combined with a lack of offseason conditioning work could account for the dip.
Sox manager John Farrell acknowledged that Doubront’s fading velocity is a concern.
“Physically he doesn’t express any restrictions or any tightness, any soreness,” Farrell said. “When he tries to get his better velocity, that’s when he starts to really lose command.”
Farrell said Doubront lacks the arm speed he once had.
“You really tell it on his curveball. The curveball gets kind of big and loopy and lacks the consistent shape to it, as well as the finish to his fastball,” Farrell said. “We continue to search.”
Farrell said Doubront is doing the expected work between starts. But Doubront suggested he might try more arm-strengthening exercises, such as throwing longer distances, to try to get his fastball back.
“I know it’s pretty much down like 5 miles per hour,” Doubront said. “I have to do something about that. Start working, playing catch, long toss. Do something about it.”
If he can't, the question becomes whether Doubront can pitch effectively with less zip.
If not, the Red Sox have Allen Webster waiting in Pawtucket. The righthander allowed one run on two hits over six innings against Durham Friday night. He struck out nine without a walk.