Felix Doubront has accumulated pitch counts much higher than the 93 he recorded on Tuesday night. The lefthander has also thrown with more velocity.
But Doubront has never been more dominant — not this season, and not in his four-year career. It was a welcome sign for the Red Sox, who have been waiting for Doubront to make the transition into a reliable pitcher. Doubront pitched a career-high eight innings, anchoring the Red Sox in a 3-1 win against Tampa Bay in the nightcap of a doubleheader.
The 25-year-old struck out six, walked none, and allowed only three hits. He retired the last 17 batters he faced.
It was Doubront’s first scoreless start of any length. He was not rewarded with the victory when closer Andrew Bailey allowed a ninth-inning homer to Kelly Johnson to tie the game, 1-1.
“He more than did his job,” manager John Farrell said.
It’s been a frustratingly inconsistent season for Doubront, who was briefly relegated to the bullpen after a poor start on May 3. Doubront’s fastball once peaked at 96 m.p.h., but he has lost some of his velocity this season. Since rejoining the rotation on May 16, Doubront has a 2.81 ERA, allowing three earned runs or fewer in all seven starts in that span.
“This game gave me more confidence,” Doubront said. “I needed this.”
In Doubront’s last start on June 13, he blew through 103 pitches by the fifth inning. He allowed three earned runs, one home run and walked one.
On Tuesday he was much more economical.
“In the first inning I felt like everything was together,” Doubront said. “I was feeling really good inning by inning and that was really nice.”
Doubront noticed Tampa Bay was attacking him early in the count. But all he was worried about was throwing strikes. He worked on a few mechanical adjustments in his last bullpen session, but mainly focused on hitting the strike zone more consistently and keeping his pitches low.
Of his 93 pitches, 58 were strikes. He consistently hit 90 and 91 m.p.h. on his fastball.
“Everything changes when you’re throwing strikes,” Doubront said. “They have to swing at everything you throw across.”
The Venezuela native benefited from working with catcher Jarrod Satlalamacchia, who he has pitched to since 2010. “He knows me,” Doubront said.
Saltalamacchia played both games of the doubleheader after Boston’s backup, David Ross, was placed on the seven-day disabled list because of concussion symptoms.
Saltalamacchia became the first Red Sox to start both games of a twin bill since John Marzano caught 22 innings on Aug. 14, 1992.
“Salty called a great game,” Doubront said. “I was pretty much throwing everything he called.”
Said Saltalamacchia: “He was just throwing strikes. Even when he fell behind in the count, he threw his off-speed for strikes.”
The eight innings were not only a career-high for Doubront, but an encouraging sign for the Sox pitching staff, which has endured a flux of injuries, minor league call-ups, and question marks this season.
Doubront’s outing was the longest for a Boston starter since Clay Buchholz threw eight innings on May 11.
Manager John Farrell said “there was some thought” of keeping Doubront in for the ninth.
Doubront said he wasn’t disappointed he didn’t close out the game. He already achieved enough.