FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Fort, where Felix Doubront couldn’t stop smiling, Alfredo Aceves offered a peek behind his steel facade, and Bobby Valentine went all poker face when it came time to discuss rotation decisions.
Doubront had every reason to smile. He wrapped up what has been an outstanding camp by pitching six scoreless innings against a High-Class A team from the Minnesota Twins. The 24-year-old from Carabobo, Venezuela, who clearly had embraced the challenge to restore his reputation and stake a claim on a starting job that could have been his a year earlier, has every reason to believe he will be in the rotation.
"I'm pretty confident," said Doubront, whose 5-year-old son, Noah, slyly slipped behind him while he spoke with reporters. "I'm waiting for that talk."
“That's what I'm waiting for, the opportunity to show the people who Felix Doubront is," said the 6-foot-2 left-hander, who says he is throwing all five of his pitches -- fastball, curveball, cutter, two-seamer and changeup -- with conviction.
Valentine did not award him a spot Thursday, but it would be a shock if it did not come. Doubront is out of options, and there is no way the Red Sox would be able to pass him through waivers without another team making a claim. There is no reason the Sox should want to.
“I’m very happy with Felix Doubront’s spring,’’ Valentine said. “I think Bob McClure worked really well with him, he came in shape and kept in shape, and he feels really good about his body and condition. His pitches continue to improve. His changeup is very good. His curveball is coming along, and his fastball is very good for a left-hander.’’
The only thing left, it would seem, is to see how Doubront responds when they turn the bright lights on.
Valentine did not see Doubront pitch on a back field. He was watching Aceves, who also pitched well, holding a team of Blue Jays lightly populated with big-leaguers scoreless for five innings before giving up two runs in the sixth, only one of them earned. That was his last inning.
All spring Aceves has downplayed his preference for starting or relieving. There was no such subtlety Thursday.
"It's like a dream, you know, to start, being the first pitcher in major-league baseball," Aceves said after the Sox lost, 3-2, to the Blue Jays in JetBlue Park. "That's a dream. Obviously, you have dreams. Of course, it's something every single pitcher tries to be, be the first pitcher in the major leagues, I don’t know, the best.
“I’m not coming to play without reason.’’
But he put on the brave front again when asked if he’d be disappointed if he was asked to return to the bullpen.
"No," he said. "You know why? Because it's hard to get a job. This job is really unique and I think, looking on the other hand, we have to be glad to have a job playing with the Red Sox."
How ready is he for the start of the season?
“Good question, good question,’’ he said. “I look forward to establish my career now as a starter. I’m excited, where I want to be.’’
Assuming Doubront has one of the remaining two spots in the rotation, Aceves is competing against Daniel Bard, who pitches Friday against the Twins, for the other. Aaron Cook, who almost certainly will be starting for the Sox at some point this season, will probably begin the season in Triple-A.
“I love dreams,’’ Valentine said, when relayed Aceves' comments. “Dreams are good. He expressed that to me earlier in the spring. I know where he’s coming from.’’
But Valentine, who came out later than usual to meet with the media after the game, hinted that there may be some other factors at play causing him to hold off on announcing a decision.
“There might be some situations I need to wait on before I make any declarations,’’ he said.
Pressed on what those might be, he cracked, “Whether I get enough sleep at night.’’
One possibility that can never be ruled out is a trade, though there has been little talk in recent days of a move and club officials, including Valentine, have expressed satisfaction with the pitching that is already here.
Valentine said a couple of days ago he didn’t expect any help from the outside. Was that still the case?
“Every roster continues to evolve,’’ he said cryptically. “You have to allow it to evolve, either by bringing guys up or looking outside, which Ben and his people do religiously every day. I’m not begging for it, or asking for it.’’
The Red Sox would seem to have some hedges against Doubront and/or Bard faltering as starters. There is Aceves, of course, Cook, and Vicente Padilla, who has impressed scouts with his arm strength after a couple of injury-filled seasons. And Daisuke Matsuzaka looks to be on track to make a return from Tommy John surgery sometime in June.
Where the Sox look vulnerable is if something happened to the Big Three -- Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz -- a not-implausible scenario, given the back problems that have afflicted Beckett and Buchholz in the past.
The Sox, remember, freed up money by trading shortstop Marco Scutaro in part to be able to pursue another pitcher, and they made a strong run at Roy Oswalt, who elected against signing with anyone for the time being in favor of a possible June/July return. With teams coming to the end of camp, there may be a potential trading partner whose asking price has dropped over the last six weeks.
Valentine’s comments invite speculation that something may be in the offing. No one would argue that if the Sox added another starter, they would have one of the game’s strongest bullpens if both Aceves and Bard were returned to relief roles. Unlikely, but until the competition is declared over, it can’t be entirely ruled out.