ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Felix Doubront will start for the Red Sox Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Rays. But there he was at Tropicana Field Wednesday afternoon throwing 21 pitches to bullpen catcher Mani Martinez.
It’s not completely out of the ordinary for a pitcher to throw in the bullpen the day before his start. Clay Buchholz is one who does. But it is unusual for Doubront.
But these are difficult times for the 25-year-old lefthander. Doubront has a 6.40 earned run average in six appearances. In his last two outings, he has allowed 12 earned runs on 23 hits over nine innings.
“Changing my routine,” Doubront said.
Doubront was taken out of the rotation after a poor start May 3 at Texas. He then was forced into a long relief appearance May 8 when the starter who temporarily replaced him — rookie Allen Webster — couldn’t get through two innings against the Twins.
Doubront labored through 5⅓ unexpected innings of relief, giving up six runs on 11 hits.
“That was hard, man. That was so hard,” Doubront said. “I don’t want to repeat anything like that. That was too hard for me. I said, ‘This is it.’ I wasn’t mad. Just let it go. I did that for the team and I’ve forgotten about it.”
Doubront has not pitched since, and used the time to work on fundamentals with pitching coach Juan Nieves.
Velocity is a concern, too. Doubront’s fastball has averaged 90.2 miles per hour this season, down from 92.8 last season. A pitcher who once peaked at 96 now only hits 94 on occasion.
Doubront said his concern is for location, not velocity.
“I’m not worried about that for now,” Doubront said, noting he is doing work with the training staff on his flexibility and strength in an effort to improve his velocity.
Doubront’s confidence also has improved during the extra time off.
“I feel comfortable. I’m not trying to do too much,” he said. “I’m comfortable on the mound. That’s going to help. Everything is going to come back.”
Said manager John Farrell: “We’re trying to do a number of things to try to generate the arm speed and the velocity that’s been there and yet work on some mechanical things.
“The side work has been encouraging. Again, I know it’s in kind of a sterile setting. So [Thursday] night we’re looking forward to him getting back on the mound.”
Doubront has some unusual statistics. Opponents are hitting .420 on balls they put in play, an unusually high number. With two outs and runners in scoring position, opponents are hitting .474 with a 1.197 OPS.
With two outs regardless of the situation, opponents are hitting .378 with a .907 OPS.
“That’s, to me, the biggest area that he has lacked. He’s been able to get ahead of guys and yet hasn’t put guys away,” Farrell said. “I think you create your own luck and create your own situations to put up a zero and shut an inning off after you’ve recorded two outs.”
Doubront said the game Thursday is a big one for him.
“I’m good now. The work I’m doing now, I know that I’m going to get better results,” he said. “Looking forward to pitching tomorrow and just put everything I’ve been working on into being a pitcher again.”
Bailey by Monday
Farrell said the latest Andrew Bailey would be activated off the disabled list is Monday. Bailey is scheduled for a simulated game Thursday afternoon.
The plan is for Bailey to go through a normal warm-up, then throw 12-15 pitches on the mound against hitters. The righthander has not pitched in a game since April 28 because of a biceps strain.
Farrell said the Sox would decide Friday whether Bailey’s next step would be to pitch in a minor league game before being activated. It appears that will be the case.
Morales stays down
Remember Franklin Morales? The lefthander has been on the disabled list all season with a lower-back strain that occurred in spring training and since has healed. But he remains on a rehabilitation assignment because the Sox want to prepare him as a starter.
Morales has pitched in three games and gone eight innings so far. His latest stint, Monday for Triple A Pawtucket, lasted three innings.
Morales will start for Pawtucket again Saturday and is scheduled for four innings.
“If we don’t change course with his role, we’d like to get him to a minimum of five [innings] before we look to do something back here,” Farrell said.
At this point, Farrell said, Morales is healthy enough to pitch out of the bullpen. But the Sox want to build up their starter depth, and see Morales as a good option for that given the nine games he started last season.
If Doubront continues to struggle, Morales would be a candidate to replace him in the rotation. Farrell said that if a need were to arise in the bullpen, activating Morales sooner would be a consideration.
“We’re staying the course as of right now on him starting,” Farrell said.
The Sox had a large group of the players on the field for early optional batting practice. Mike Napoli and Will Middlebrooks then stayed out for defensive work with coaches Brian Butterfield and Torey Lovullo . . . Dustin Pedroia extended his hitting streak to seven games with a double in the first inning. He has two or more hits in 18 of the 40 games this season . . . The Sox lead the majors with 145 extra-base hits. Napoli is the leader with 26, 18 of them doubles . . . Jon Lester (6-0) has beaten Cy Young Award winners CC Sabathia, R.A. Dickey, and David Price already this season . . . Stephen Drew is 20 of 63 (.317) with eight extra-base hits and 17 RBIs in 18 games since April 24.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.