FORT MYERS, Fla. — Felix Doubront arrived at Red Sox camp last month claiming to be in the best shape of his career — a familiar refrain in the early days of spring training for many players, and not always an accurate one.
But the lefthander is proving it, a process that continued Wednesday when he threw 78 pitches in a minor league game at Fenway South.
As his teammates were enjoying a scheduled offday, Doubront pitched for Triple A Pawtucket against Minnesota Twins prospects. He went 4⅔ innings, giving up two runs on three hits with one walk and four strikeouts.
On a warm day, Doubront threw 51 of his 78 pitches for strikes.
“I feel really good at this point,” said Doubront. “All the work that I put in during the offseason and now I feel great.”
Doubront is lined up to start the third game of the regular season, a sign of how much confidence the organization has in him.
Doubront was 11-6 with a 4.32 earned run average last season, pitching well for much of the year before wearing down and landing in the bullpen for the postseason. Now Doubront’s goal is to get to 30 starts for the first time in his career and pitch at least 200 innings.
Pitching coach Juan Nieves said Doubront is much further advanced than he was at this stage last year.
“Overall, the path of his delivery, the way that the arm is working, his body — he looks almost two months into the season,” Nieves said.
Doubront hit 94 m.p.h. with his fastball last week and on Wednesday was 91-92 pitching against the wind on a practice field behind JetBlue Park.
“One of the biggest things is his health,” said Nieves. “But the fact is he feels great. His presence on the mound is outstanding because he knows that he’s in the best shape he can possibly be.”
Doubront retired the first six batters before Brad Nelson pulled a ball down the line in right for a home run. Doubront allowed another run in the inning before retiring six in a row.
“It was a dumb pitch right there,” Doubront said of the home run. “I was overthrowing.”
The final batter he faced, Brad Boyer, fouled off four pitches before drawing a walk. Doubront is tentatively scheduled to pitch again against the Yankees in Tampa Tuesday, although that could be pushed back a day to avoid a division opponent.
Angling for a spot
Lefthander Rich Hill, who reported to Red Sox camp March 6, threw 25 pitches during a minor league intrasquad game. Hill faced six batters, getting four strikeouts.
“To get out there today felt great,” said Hill, who is mourning the death of his infant son last month. “Pitching again and being on the mound competing and doing your best, that’s what I needed to be doing.”
Hill threw his pitches from an arm angle that was a touch lower than three-quarters. In recent years, he has experimented with a sidearm delivery, then threw over the top with the Indians last season.
“This is comfortable for me,” said Hill. “The ball looks the same coming out of my hand every time, whether it’s a cutter or breaking ball or fastball. I had a chance to start with a clean slate.”
Hill’s next appearance is expected to be in a game, perhaps this weekend. The Milton, Mass., native, who is in camp on a minor league contract, could start the season in Pawtucket.
“Very interesting the way this guy manipulates a baseball,” Nieves said. “It’s great to have a multiple-arm-angle lefty. It’s a great acquisition just to have a guy like that. You never stay with the same [relievers] all year. It’s great depth for us.”
The Red Sox benefited from the Atlanta Braves signing free agent Ervin Santana Wednesday. Because Santana was a qualified free agent, the Braves forfeit their first-round draft pick and that moves up the Red Sox to the 26th overall pick . . . According to Bovada, Texas ace Yu Darvish is 8-1 for the American League Cy Young Award, with Clay Buchholz the third choice at 10-1. Jon Lester is 20-1, Koji Uehara 33-1, and John Lackey 66-1. Mike Trout is the favorite to win Most Valuable Player in the American League at 5-1. Former Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is 12-1 with the Yankees. Dustin Pedroia is in a group at 16-1 that includes Adrian Beltre and Chris Davis. David Ortiz is 25-1 . . . The Red Sox face the Twins Thursday at Hammond Stadium. Righthander Jake Peavy will make his first start of the spring.