ARLINGTON, Texas — Felix Doubront consistently threw his fastball 92-93 miles per hour 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 on Friday night in a game the Sox lost, 7-0. The 12 hits he allowed were the most of his career.
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, 73⅓ 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 combed with a lack of offseason conditioning work could account for the dip.
Manager John Farrell admitted 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 doing more arm-strengthening exercises, like 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.”
Doubront (3-1) won three of his first four starts. But along with reduced velocity he’s had trouble with command.
Doubront’s performance was alarmingly bad against the Rangers as he was charged with six runs over 3⅔ innings. Of his 97 pitches, only 58 were strikes.
Doubront allowed eight hits in the first three innings but only one run. His luck ran out in the fourth.
With two outs and a runner on first in the fourth, four consecutive Rangers batters reached before Farrell finally lifted him.
Ian Kinsler singled to extend the inning. Elvis Andrus then singled to drive in a run. Lance Berkman walked to load the bases before Adrian Beltre lined a three-run double to center field.
With Texas up, 5-0, Alex Wilson took the mound. Nelson Cruz singled to drive in another run.
Doubront is 0-3 with an 11.40 earned run average in six career appearances against Texas. The Rangers finished with 18 hits off Doubront and two relievers Friday night, the most the Sox have allowed since Aug. 31, a 20-2 loss at Oakland.
As Doubront struggled, the Red Sox were feeble against Texas lefthander Derek Holland (2-2). He went eight innings and scattered six singles with one walk and nine strikeouts.
“We didn’t make too many opportunities for ourselves tonight,” Farrell said.
The Sox had only two hits through the first five innings, singles by David Ortiz in the first inning and Shane Victorino in the fourth.
Ortiz dodged a defensive shift for his hit, grounding a ball into the outfield and just beating the throw from Kinsler, who was playing in shallow right field instead of traditional second base.
Ortiz has hit safely in all 11 games he has played since coming off the disabled list and in 23 consecutive games dating back to last July 2. That is the longest active streak in the majors.
Victorino (1 for 4) was back in the lineup after missing seven games with a strained lower back. He also made a nice defensive play in the first inning, fielding a single in right field and throwing behind Andrus when he rounded second base too aggressively. Ciriaco tagged him out to end the inning.
Derek Lowe pitched an inning to finish off Texas’s fifth shutout of the season. The Red Sox are 12-26 against Texas over the last five seasons, 6-14 at Rangers Ballpark.