EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 30, 2013

Talented Doubront must become more durable for Sox

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — Here at Fenway Park last night we saw one lefty (reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price) who is great and another southpaw (Felix Doubront) who has the potential to be great but isn’t quite there yet and might never get there.

Price earned his second win over Boston in five nights. He went 7.1 innings and allowed just one run on two hits and no walks while striking out eight. The Rays won 2-1 over Boston to take a half game lead in the AL East standings.

For Doubront to be great, he needs to be more consistent. Sure, he has been consistent by some standards. He has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 18 of his 19 starts, including each of his past 14 starts since May 16, the longest such single-season streak by a Red Sox left-hander since 1920 and the longest single-season streak by any Boston hurler since Pedro Martinez’s 14 in a row in 2002.

But consistency for Doubront doesn’t only mean limiting teams to three or fewer runs over a 19-start stretch, which certainly shows he has been keeping his team in every game. It also means pitching deep into games regularly and staying competitive and durable for an entire season.

The 25-year-old lefty didn’t go deep into yesterday’s game, pitching just 5.0 innings. And whether Doubront can continue to pitch well during the final two months is questionable. After all, he had a combined 6.04 ERA while showing fatigue the final two months last year.

Tigers ace Justin Verlander is the definition of consistency. At one point, he had a streak of 63 straight starts of 6.0 or more innings pitched. Even when Verlander has struggled during certain stretches, he still battles deep into games more times than not. And he always does it for a full season. Verlander has pitched 200 or more innings each of the past six innings.

Price competes the same way and he has pitched 200 or more innings each of the past three seasons.

The important thing for Doubront isn’t pitching 200 innings this year. He’ll probably fall about 20 to 30 innings short of that mark anyway. The key for him is to finish this year strong. If he tails off in August and September, the Red Sox will be in big trouble, especially if Boston fails to add another starting pitcher by tomorrow’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Doubront allowed two runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out four yesterday.

“Pretty poor,” Doubront said, evaluating his outing. “I couldn’t get ahead. All my pitches was a little bit off.”

The Boston lefty obviously has great stuff. Even with a drop in velocity this year — his fastball entered yesterday averaging 90.5 mph this season compared to an average of 92.7 mph last year (fangraphs.com) — Doubront still is recording outs because of his movement.

Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild recently told The Eagle-Tribune about the lefty: “The fastball is all over the zone. It’s difficult to get a read on it. He’s using four quadrants. I don’t know if it’s on purpose but the ball is cutting and sinking.”

Yankees catcher Chris Stewart elaborated on Doubront’s fastball movement.

“Sometimes it cuts, sometimes it two-seams away from you,” Stewart said. “I don’t know if he necessarily knows what he’s doing but he’s kind of effectively all around the strike zone. It’s tough to key in on a guy like that. He’s got that slow curveball to keep you off-balance.”

A big difference between Doubront and Price — as was on display last night — is simple strike throwing.

Doubront threw 104 pitches (55 percent for strikes) in five innings. Price threw 49 fewer pitches over the first five innings during which he had thrown 75 percent strikes.

Doubront has gotten ahead of hitters during starts and gone deep into several games this year. He also entered yesterday averaging 8.28 strikeouts per 9.0 innings, the seventh highest rate among major league left-handers.

But he is giving up too many walks (51 in 117.0 innings this year) and that doesn’t help his pitch counts. He must become more aggressive early in counts like Price.

Meanwhile, the most innings he ever has thrown in one season was 161.0 last year. Before that, 129.1 innings was his most since signing with the Red Sox as an amateur free agent in 2005.

The uncertainty of Doubront’s durability down the stretch is another important reason the Red Sox should add another starting pitcher by tomorrow’s trade deadline.

Many think the debate on whether to add another starter simply comes down to whether a Jake Peavy or Bud Norris would be an upgrade over fifth starter Brandon Workman until Clay Buchholz returns, if Buchholz returns.

But it’s much more than that. The Red Sox lack some starting pitching depth right now because minor leaguers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster have struggled lately. De La Rosa allowed six earned runs on three homers in 4.2 innings for the PawSox yesterday.

So adding a Peavy, Norris or someone else would add to the starting pitching depth And it would allow the Red Sox to move Workman to relief to help solidify the concerning bullpen and add some insurance in case Doubront struggles as his innings continue to build.

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