MIAMI - Felix Doubront is 24 years old and has been in the Red Sox system for eight seasons. He burst onto the professional baseball scene at 17 in 2005, when he went 7-1 with an 0.97 ERA in his first season in the Venezuelan Summer League.
And there have been snapshots of greatness, snapshots of injuries, and snapshots of growing pains.
But if there’s a poster child for perseverance, it is Doubront.
And if there’s an example to the 29 other franchises that if you’re patient with a pitcher he will yield dividends, it is the manner in which the Red Sox stuck with him, resisting the temptations to trade or release the lefthander.
On Wednesday night, in his 13th start of the season, Doubront turned a corner. He had a no-hitter for 5 2/3 innings before Jose Reyes homered. He finished seven innings for the first time in his career.
The way he commanded a 94-mile-per-hour fastball, a sinker, a changeup, and a cutter - not to mention the swings and misses he was getting on his breaking pitch - helped the Sox to a 10-2 win over the Marlins.
“When I saw he hadn’t given up a hit after five I said, ‘OK, this is it.’ He had that kind of stuff,’’ said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “He’s one of the best and he just showed so much confidence on the mound. If he can keep it right there, he’s going to be a special pitcher. I think he already is.’’
Doubront is 7-2 with a 4.17 ERA.
We are witnessing the maturity of a pitcher.
When he broke camp as the fourth starter it would have been difficult to imagine seven wins before June 15, but that’s where he is.
“I would have believed it 100 percent if you told me he’d have seven wins before June 15,’’ said Saltalamacchia. “Absolutely.’’
He’s now poised to have an outstanding, breakout season. The kid from Carabobo, Venezuela, who arrived here so wide-eyed and raw, is now a mature, married father of two, who is emerging as a quality pitcher.
He was so distraught after his poor performance in his previous outing - a 7-4 loss to the Nationals when he was touched up for eight hits and six runs in four innings in a showdown against Stephen Strasburg - that he vowed he was going to turn it around and never perform so badly.
He said the biggest difference was, “I kept the ball down.’’
But Saltalamacchia thought it was Doubront’s attitude that made the difference.
“A lot of times where he would shake me off it was to go in hard, which is good,’’ said the catcher. “It shows he wants to attack guys rather than throw sinkers away from guys.’’
Doubront attacked the Marlins relentlessly with his fastball.
“It’s definitely explosive,’’ Saltalamacchia said. “He hides the ball really well and he has really long arms and it pops out of his hand. When he throws it hard inside you can’t sit on that because he throws a sinker away. That’s the best I’ve seen it.’’
Doubront said he kept an eye on the scoreboard, so he was a aware he had a no-hitter going.
“I knew there was something going on,’’ he said. “I was just enjoying it.’’
Doubront’s outing impressed not only his catcher, but his manager, too. Bobby Valentine called it “an outstanding performance.’’
After a first-inning walk to Donovan Solano, Doubront retired 16 straight batters, eight (of his total of nine) of them on strikeouts before Reyes hit a sinker away over the fence. Valentine was impressed how Doubront bounced back after the homer.
“He had just lost his no-hitter and now he’s got to face the next batter [Solano] and he struck him out,’’ said Valentine.
Hanley Ramirez singled and Giancarlo Stanton doubled to start the seventh. Two runners in scoring position, nobody out. This was the next test.
Valentine came out of the dugout for a visit.
“I told him to take a deep breath and be aggressive with his strikes and go after these hitters and not worry about the hitters who hit the ball pretty hard against him,’’ said the manager. “I thought it was necessary to regain a little momentum. You have a no-hitter, lose a no-hitter with a home run, and then you hear loud cracks on your fastball that nobody was on all night. And then you hear them in one inning. You have to collect yourself and believe in your stuff. And I think he did.’’
Doubront said it was important for him to go seven. It was a hurdle he’d been unable to cross. When he allowed the first batters to reach he said, “No, I just knew then I had to concentrate on getting the three batters out. Let one score and prevent the rest from scoring.’’
And so he retired the next three batters and left with a 4-2 lead.
“I think he’s a confident kid, but that proves he’s confident,’’ Valentine said about Doubront getting out of the inning. “He’s going to be tested again because he’s going to see this team again next week [at Fenway].’’
Doubront was also excited about a bunt he got down in the third inning, which led to Boston’s first run.
“I was very happy about that,’’ Doubront said.
Valentine always emphasizes trying to bunt for a hit, and it seemed Doubront tried. He ran hard down the line and “he looked like an athlete’’ said Valentine.
What he looked like Wednesday night was a dominating lefthanded pitcher.
Saltalamacchia grouped him with CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, and Chris Sale.
There’s nothing like watching a home-grown pitcher develop. We’ve seen it with Clay Buchholz and Lester. The Sox’ front office told Valentine when he took the job that Doubront was out of minor league options. They told Valentine that if the team had to let Doubront go, he would eventually pitch for another major league team as a starter.
After watching him in spring training, Valentine said, “He’s going to pitch for us.’’
He has arrived.
“And I think he’s going to get even better,’’ said David Ortiz.