NEW YORK — The biggest challenge a year ago, when Felix Doubront was making his first lap through major league lineups, was dealing with how new everything was.
Every time the Red Sox lefthander took the mound it felt like a crash course.
He wasn’t just pitching against the Yankees, he was learning how to pitch against the Yankees.
Or the Rays.
Or the Orioles.
“The first challenge you have to go through is learning how to deal with a team,” Doubront said.
Then there were the other wrinkles.
“Learning about the umpires,” he said. “Learning about the situations. Learning about whether a man’s in scoring position or if the bases are loaded.”
In a season when he put up team highs in wins (11) and strikeouts (167), the 25-year old left every start with a long list of mental notes.
He’ll bring those notes into this season when he makes his first start Friday in Toronto against the retooled Blue Jays, who are the chic selection for AL East contenders.
Doubront, overflowing with potential, said the experience he gained a season ago will help him make the leap in his second season as a full-time starter.
“Those are the kinds of things that will make me be better next time when I face that,” Doubront said. “It was a lot of challenges I had to see in that year to learn more about pitching. It’s not just pitching, it’s what’s going on around you. The other people. The other hitters. Your teammates. It’s a lot of things that I’m learning. I’m more confident this year, so it’s going to be the opposite. It’s going to be more comfortable to me.”
It’s been said time and again by Sox manager John Farrell that Doubront, whose fastball lights up at 96 miles per hour, is as talented as any of the pitchers in the rotation.
Much of that promise was borne out of the 10-4 run he went on to start last season, by far exceeding expectations as he picked up wins over the Rays, Tigers, Yankees.
He hit a wall late in the summer, landing on the disabled list in August (with what was listed as a knee injury but he later acknowledged was fatigue) and losing five of his final six starts.
In the offseason, he focused on technical improvements (primarily being more efficient and trimming down his 4.05 pitches per batter), but he also concentrated on being strong enough to haul through a long season.
“I’m feeling great, man,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of goals to meet this year, and I think I’m going through that now. I want to do it to make myself a better pitcher for the future.”
After overachieving last year, he said he doesn’t want his reputation to solely be of a young pitcher with a surplus of potential.
“I don’t want to be that guy that everyone says I have talent,” Doubront said. “I have to show that on the mound pitching and let all the people talk about that.
“I just want to do the best I can, do my job the best I can, and do better every day when I’m pitching.”
When he arrives in Toronto, he will know his opponent and his surroundings.
It will be his third start at Rogers Centre. He has already faced Jose Bautista 12 times. And he’ll have more than enough mental notes from a season ago.
“I’m just going to accept what baseball has for me,” Doubront said. “I’m just going to do the same thing that every pitcher does.
“Just throw the ball and make quality pitches and what’s going to happen is up to the baseball gods. I’m going to do my best to just get a ‘W’ or give my team a chance to win the game. That’s the only thing I have to worry about.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.