CHICAGO — Franklin Morales has long ago recovered from the spring training back injury that landed him on the disabled list. But the Red Sox have kept the lefthanded reliever on a minor league rehabilitation assignment building up the durability necessary to work as a starter.
Left unsaid was whom Morales would replace in the rotation, but it was clear the Red Sox were concerned about the viability of Felix Doubront.
The 25-year-old lefthander reported to spring training in poor condition and his performance reflected that when the season started.
His velocity was down, his location erratic. The Sox skipped one of Doubront’s starts earlier this month and embarked on a program to rebuild his skills and confidence.
The Chicago White Sox beat the Red Sox, 3-1, on Tuesday and Doubront took the loss. But the long-term implications were positive.
Doubront went six innings, giving up two runs on five hits. He walked two, struck out three and averaged an efficient 14 pitches an inning.
Doubront resembled the pitcher who was one of the surprises in an otherwise wretched 2012 season. As the Red Sox were being no-hit into the seventh inning by Jose Quintana, Doubront was able to keep them within a few swings.
“I think he’s onto something with the adjustments he’s made,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “I thought today was another positive step for him.”
Doubront (3-2) has allowed four earned runs on eight hits over 11 innings in his last two starts and struck out 10. That dropped his earned run average from 6.40 to 5.61. His velocity has trended up, too.
“Working every day. I’m seeing the results,” Doubront said. “Everything is going in the right direction right now. Just looking forward to my next outing.”
Doubront took a one-hit shutout into the fifth inning and got two quick outs before Dayan Viciedo reached on a single through the shortstop hole that third baseman Will Middlebrooks was unable to make a play on.
The next pitch was an 89 mile-per-hour fastball to Jeff Keppinger that was belt high on the inner half of the plate. Keppinger drove it into the bleachers in left center field for his first home run of the season.
All evidence aside, Doubront didn’t think it was a bad pitch.
“I felt good about what I did all night,” he said.
Doubront stranded a runner in that inning and two more in the sixth.
“I thought he threw the ball real well. Tonight he was good. He was spotting his fastball to both sides, keeping the ball down, real sharp curveball,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said.
Quintana (3-1) was only eight outs away from a no-hitter when David Ortiz broke his bat on a curveball and singled to center field. The Red Sox haven’t been no-hit since 1993, when Seattle’s Chris Bosio accomplished the feat.
Mike Napoli and Daniel Nava followed with singles to load the bases with one out. That was it for Quintana, who threw 107 pitches.
“He was pounding the strike zone, making his pitches,” Ortiz said.
Righthander Jesse Crain ended the inning by striking out Middlebrooks swinging at a full-count slider and Stephen Drew on a 2-and-2 changeup.
In two career starts against the Red Sox, the 24-year-old Quintana has thrown 14⅓ scoreless innings on eight hits.
The Sox left four runners on base in the final three innings against the Chicago bullpen, three in scoring position. Addison Reed finished the game for his 16th save.
The Sox threatened again in the eighth inning. Saltalamacchia drew a walk off lefthander Matt Thornton before Ellsbury singled. Then White Sox manager Robin Ventura called in righthander Matt Lindstrom.
Mike Carp, who was hitless in his last 16 at-bats, pinch hit for Jonny Gomes. He popped out to left field.
After a wild pitch moved the runners over, Pedroia grounded to shortstop. The ball went through the legs of Alexei Ramirez and Saltalamacchia scored.
Ortiz then grounded to Paul Konerko at first base and he started a double play that ended the inning.
“The last thing I anticipated with David at the plate was a groundball double play,” Farrell said. “They made good pitches to get out of the jams.”
The Sox finished with four hits. It was the 10th time in 46 games they have been held to five or fewer hits. They are 3-7 in those games.
Alex Wilson gave up a run in the eighth inning, only the second the Red Sox bullpen has allowed in the last eight games.
All nine runs the White Sox scored in the series have come with two outs, as have 13 of their 15 hits.
The Red Sox are 5-3 on a road trip that ends Wednesday night. Clay Buchholz will pitch for the Red Sox against Hector Santiago. Chicago ace Chris Sale was scratched from the game because of a sore shoulder.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.