Bobby Valentine liked what he saw from Felix Doubront in spring training, observing signs that were more than positive.
“He caught my eye his first bullpen that I saw, because he was kind of off the radar,” the Red Sox manager said.
Because he played winter ball, he was ahead of the other pitchers.
“It was easy for him to stand out,” said Valentine. “He was a slam dunk to make the team as far as I was concerned.”
But eventually to lead a staff that included Jon Lester and Josh Beckett?
“Coming out of spring training, it would not have been good odds that he would have been the first one on our staff with 10 wins,” said Valentine. “But he’s been consistent.”
Not even Doubront himself considered it, surprised with the 10-4 record he’s put together after throwing six innings of one-run ball in the Red Sox’ 10-1 win over the White Sox Wednesday night.
“Since I came to spring training, I was working so hard to be here, to be in this spot,” Doubront said. “Just working to get more wins and whatever happens, I’m going to keep fighting to get more wins.”
Getting ahead of hitters with first-pitch strikes, Doubront again proved to be Boston’s stopper, coming up with his fifth win after a Red Sox loss. He had earned bounce-back wins over the Royals, Rays, Tigers, and most recently the Yankees, when he survived a rocky start to throw 6⅓ innings and help snap a five-game losing streak.
His ERA in those starts is 2.76, and Valentine said he’s been the most consistent starter in the rotation.
Fighting his curveball somewhat, Doubront’s four-seam fastball and changeup worked for him all night.
The White Sox got to him in the first inning, when Paul Konerko shot a 3-and-2 fastball to right to score Alejandro De Aza.
“He got a double-play ball in the first inning and got upset that he let the two-out hit in there, and then he shut the door,” Valentine said. “His changeup was really good, he wasn’t afraid to throw inside when he had to. He had his two-seamer working. He’s a good pitcher.”
Once he got out of that inning, he settled into a rhythm. He retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced.
“Felix was outstanding tonight,” said Cody Ross. “He got himself into a little trouble, in a bind early in that first inning, managed to get out of it, and then was just dominant after that, flipping his curveball over and then getting some swinging misses after that, getting a lot of ground ball outs and just pitched outstanding.”
It was Ross who blasted two three-run home runs, giving Doubront room to relax on the mound, although he was worried maybe it was too much room.
“I know it’s tough to pitch for them when you have a big lead like that,” Ross said. “Your thought process, you just want to groove it in there and you could easily find yourself in a hole if you start doing that. He kept making great pitches and putting up zeroes.”
Doubront pitched to contact, striking out just two but allowing just one hit after the first inning.
“I know the team is going to score runs,” he said. “We’ve got a good team with great hitters. I wasn’t worried about that, just good pitching, figuring out a couple things.
“In the first inning I was a little bit off, a couple pitches I left up some. I just continued to pitch and get those innings and let the team score those runs.’’
The 24-year-old lefty joined Lester as the second youngest pitcher in franchise history to reach double-digit wins behind Roger Clemens.
“We’re going to get more wins I hope,” he said. “We’re going to do it.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.