Doubront is just what Sox need

BOSTON -- It was only a few days into the official report date for pitchers and catchers last February when new Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine expressed his positive impressions of pitcher Felix Doubront.

The 24-year-old left-hander remains relatively inexperienced at the big league level, and prior to this season he was used mainly as a reliever in his 23 appearances (only three starts) during his time with the Red Sox.

It was decided early during last winter that he would enter camp as a starter and be given every opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation. He did that, and so far Doubront has been consistent.

He worked six innings and allowed one run on three hits with two walks and five strikeouts en route to a 4-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Saturday night at Fenway Park. He improves to 3-1 with a 4.46 ERA in seven starts this season.

"Once again, Felix Doubront was terrific," Valentine said after the win. "He was ahead in the count for most of the night and his fastball was alive. His breaking ball was very good and [he] did what he had to do to get us in a winning position."

Valentine said he knew from the first batter of the game that Doubront had the feel. He struck out five and now has 37 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings this season.

"The word is getting around a little. If you watch him pitch, there are so many at-bats where he has two strikes on hitters really quickly," Valentine said. "That's because he's not afraid. He has good stuff, and maybe word's getting around."

Doubront has always been a confident pitcher. Even if you never watched his outing on any given night, you wouldn't be able to tell after the game whether he won or lost. He's all business, and the club's decision to make him a starter at this level is already paying dividends.

It's not like he doesn't know how to start, because he compiled a 47-37 record in the minors in 131 starts. Based on that experience and his strong mound presence, at least in the early going, he's proving to be an important part of Boston's rotation.

"You have to have confidence," said Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "That's something, for a young guy, it's important because you can't teach that. You can't teach his demeanor, the way he just goes out there and doesn't get amped up. He just goes after you, and that's something you can't teach and he's awesome at it.

"Felix was awesome. He pounded the zone and basically went after them," he added.

The one thing Saltalamacchia would like to see change is the number of foul balls Doubront is allowing, which quickly increases his pitch count. In fact, he finished with 109 pitches (66 for strikes) and said afterward that he knows he's inching closer to throwing the same amount of pitches but going deeper into games.

After the win, Doubront explained that his approach to the lefty-heavy Cleveland order was to keep the ball down and in. His plan worked.

In his previous start, at Kansas City, Doubront worked a season-high 6 1/3 innings and earned the win. So on Saturday, the sixth inning was familiar territory for the southpaw.

"I'm going to learn from every start," he said. "I'm learning. I'm getting better. I just need to throw more and that's it. I'm going to get better every day, every start, and I'm just waiting for that moment to go deeper into the game."

Even though he's thinking about going seven innings each time out, his six innings against the Indians were enough because the Sox bullpen proved to be perfect. Andrew Miller, Vicente Padilla and Alfredo Aceves each retired the side in order during the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, respectively.

The lefty Miller worked his third straight game and now has held opponents scoreless in all five of his outings this season, with only two baserunners allowed on a pair of singles during his five innings of work.

"Andrew Miller has been fabulous and he continued the streak of throwing strikes with quality pitches," Valentine said. "What more can we say about Vicente Padilla?"

So, for the second consecutive game, the Red Sox received a solid starting pitching performance. Now the hope is that becomes contagious for the rest of the staff.

Doubront was able to build off fellow starter Clay Buchholz's solid outing in Boston's 7-5 win on Friday, when the right-hander worked 6 1/3 innings and allowed three earned runs on eight hits.

"You watch the guy before you and you see him go after guys and attack them and you've got to be the same way," Saltalamacchia said. "You can't be afraid to make contact with the strike zone. You can't be afraid of anything, and that's what we did the last two nights."

It was a clean and crisp two-hour-and-30-minute game. Doubront did his job -- again. The bullpen did its job and the offense did just enough to help the Red Sox win back-to-back games for the first time since a six-game winning streak April 23-29.

"It was a really nice game," Valentine said. "Everyone did their job."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.