This was supposed to be the season Felix Doubront shook off the inconsistencies of youth and emerged as a starting pitcher the Red Sox could rely on.
The 26-year-old lefthander arrived at spring training in improved condition after spending six weeks in Florida at a training facility. His newfound confidence was impossible to miss.
Manager John Farrell, duly impressed, made Doubront his No. 3 starter.
Two starts in, that conviction looks misplaced. Doubront had the worst start of his career against the Texas Rangers Tuesday night, failing to get through three innings as the Sox were beaten, 10-7, before a crowd of 34,142.
That’s four losses in the last five games for the Red Sox, all at Fenway Park. They finish with the Rangers Wednesday afternoon before opening a four-game series against the Yankees in New York Thursday.
The defending World Series champions are tied for last place eight games into the season and playing poorly at home.
“I don’t think we’re scuffling. I just don’t think we’ve started,” left fielder Jonny Gomes said. “It’s too early in the season — offensively, defensively, pitching — to say we’re scuffling. We’re not in reverse. We’re just in neutral.”
As it stands, Doubront would start Sunday night against the Yankees. That’s not a very comforting idea for the Sox given he has allowed eight earned runs on 12 hits and four walks over eight innings.
“I don’t know what happened because I’ve been feeling great, amazing really,” Doubront said. “I can’t let myself get negative because there’s a long season to go.”
Farrell believes Doubront has pitched better than his statistics would indicate.
“He’s taken the mound aggressively. He’s attacked and challenged the strike zone and yet [Tuesday] the third inning was not the way it was intended,” the manager said.
Brandon Workman pitched the final four innings, allowing one run, and afterward was optioned to Triple A Pawtucket, where he will be used as a starter. If Doubront continues to struggle, Workman would represent an attractive alternative.
Doubront retired six of the first seven batters he faced and needed only 21 pitches. But what looked like a promising start unraveled quickly.
Robinson Chirinos, a 29-year-old catcher starting his 25th career game, led off the third inning with a home run down the line in left. It was his second home run in 91 career at-bats.
With two outs and a runner on first, Doubront could not end the inning. Prince Fielder chopped a ball a few feet in front of the plate that bounced over the head of first baseman Mike Napoli and rolled down the line for an RBI double.
“Probably not the normal type of base hit we’re going to see,” Farrell said.
From there, the inning got out of control.
“It was crazy. It all happened so fast,” Doubront said. “I was trying to calm down and I was messed up mentally. Then my mechanics were off.”
Adrian Beltre followed with an RBI single. After Alex Rios singled, Donnie Murphy sent a popup to shallow center field. Grady Sizemore was playing deep and could not break in fast enough to make a play. That drove in Beltre.
Doubront walked Michael Choice and Chirinos to force in a run and finally was taken out of the game after a 38-pitch inning.
“It was fatigue at that point,” Farrell said.
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski took more of a bottom-line view.
“Things happen,” he said. “You’ve got to find a way to get through it and limit the damage. Unfortunately tonight we didn’t do that.”
Burke Badenhop finished the third but allowed four runs over the fourth and fifth innings as Texas collected five more hits.
The start was the shortest of Doubront’s career and the worst start for the Red Sox since last July 9 when rookie Allen Webster allowed seven runs over 2⅓ innings against Seattle.
“I’m embarrassed because I know I’m better than that,” Doubront said.
The Red Sox had a befuddling game against Texas starter Martin Perez, a 23-year-old lefthander. They put the leadoff hitter on base in each of the first six innings but grounded into five double plays and scored only one run.
The five double plays were the most at Fenway by the Sox since 1990 and one shy of the team record.
Trailing, 9-1, after six innings, the Sox made the game entertaining.
Napoli led off the seventh inning with his third hit, a single to right field. Singles by Sizemore and Pierzynski scored Napoli.
Pierzynski [6 for 8 the last two nights] worked a nine-pitch at-bat before grounding a full-count fastball ball up the middle. It was the first time this season the notoriously impatient Pierzynski has had a two-ball count.
That knocked Perez out of the game. Ryan Roberts, who made his Red Sox debut starting at third base, walked to load the bases. Jackie Bradley Jr. then drove a 3-and-2 fastball the other way to left field. His double off the wall scored two and the Red Sox were down, 9-4.
The crowd, still very much into the game, saw Jonny Gomes strike out before Pedroia grounded back to the mound.
The Sox scored three runs in the ninth against Texas closer Joaquin Soria. Gomes had an RBI single and David Ortiz a two-run double before Napoli struck out to end it.
Napoli, Pierzynski, and Sizemore each had three hits.