FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox encouraged Felix Doubront to arrive early for spring training to get started on a conditioning program.
The lefthander did better than that. He spent three weeks in December working out in Sarasota, Fla., at a facility run by IMG. He returned for four more weeks after a break for the holidays. Outside of three weeks, Doubront spent little time at home in Venezuela.
Doubront made his first appearance at JetBlue Park Thursday morning and will throw in the bullpen Friday. He said it would be his ninth time throwing off the mound.
“I’m growing up,” said Doubront, who spoke with what for him was unusual confidence.
Doubront was 11-6 with a 4.32 earned run average last season, throwing a career-high 162⅓ innings. The 26-year-old allowed two earned runs or fewer in 16 of his 27 starts and helped stabilize the rotation when Clay Buchholz went on the disabled list.
But Doubront was out of shape when he reported to camp last season and missed a spring training start. He also had a 9.77 ERA in September, something team officials attributed to a lack of stamina.
Doubront was removed from the postseason rotation and limited to four relief appearances. He pitched well in Game 4 of the World Series, holding the Cardinals to one run in 2⅓ innings at Busch Stadium.
The Red Sox made it clear they expected more. Doubront, who is under team control for three more seasons, is capable of being something other than a No. 4 or No. 5 starter.
“That was a big part of this offseason, to get stronger, so I can stay strong the whole season. That’s what I was focused on this offseason,” Doubront said. “I’ll work hard for that.”
Doubront also consulted with pitching coach Juan Nieves and changed his delivery to be quicker to the plate, particularly from the stretch. Shoulder fatigue led to Doubront losing his command at points last season, something he believes he has solved with more upper-body strength.
“You’ll notice it,” he told reporters. “It feels good for me. My delivery is better.”
Doubront is one of six established starters in camp but expects to be in the rotation.
“I’m a starter. I feel like I’m there,” he said. “I’m trying to be a strong starting pitcher.”
Watanabe draws a crowd
When Shunsuke Watanabe reported to the bullpen for a throwing session, word got around quickly.
Manager John Farrell came over to watch, joining assistant general manager Mike Hazen and about a dozen players. Watanabe was assigned to minor league camp but is a special case for the Sox.
The 37-year-old righthander was 87-82 with a 3.65 ERA over 12 seasons with the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan and twice pitched in the World Baseball Classic. He also has perhaps the most unusual delivery in the game.
Watanabe pauses three times before dropping down and delivering the ball from just above the top of the mound, inches off the dirt. The ball travels to the plate on an upward plane, something rarely seen.
“He’ll be tough to hit the first time somebody sees him,” said Ryan Lavarnway, who caught the session. “It wasn’t tough to catch because I knew what he was throwing. But the angle is completely different. He had good stuff.”
Watanabe throws a fastball and sinker with a breaking pitch that looks like a slider. He’s working on a changeup.
His fastball is well below average major league speed but the sinker could be an effective pitch. Watanabe was 0-4, 4.62 in six starts last season in Japan, so the Sox aren’t expecting much.
Watanabe was guaranteed at least four appearances in spring training games, so he’ll get a chance to see what that unusual delivery can do against major league hitters.
Closer Koji Uehara was delayed in his arrival because of weather issues in Baltimore, where he keeps a home. He is expected sometime on Friday . . . Recent arrivals include Junichi Tazawa and bullpen coach Dana LeVangie.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.