BOSTON -- As he matures as a starting pitcher at a sometimes agonizingly slow rate, Felix Doubront often has opportunities to take that next step, whether it is working deeper into games, limiting walks or finishing hitters off when he is ahead.
He was handed one such opportunity in the first inning Sunday against Cleveland when, after Jacoby Ellsbury dropped a shallow pop to center, Doubront got to two outs and had an 0-2 count on Carlos Santana with the chance to escape a bases-loaded jam, put a zero on the board and pick up his teammate.
But a flat curveball from the lefty was knocked into left field for a two-run single, and another one of those opportunities had come and gone.
Doubront recovered to have some nice moments, recording eight strikeouts along the way and retiring 10 straight at one point, but the end result was a lot like most of the rest. Pretty good at times. A little rocky here and there. Not that Doubront has been around forever, but the 25-year-old is 40 starts into his Red Sox career and still about the same. At least that’s the case in the box score.
For now, he is focusing on the positives.
“I think everything went well,” he said. “No matter what happens I have to keep working and be more efficient and try to do better next time moving forward.”
Among the areas on which Doubront needs to improve is his ability to put guys away when he is in command of the count. In addition to Santana’s 0-2 hit, Jason Kipnis hit a solo homer in the fifth on an 0-2 offering and Nick Swisher turned an 0-2 count into a 2-2 count before crushing a solo shot in the sixth that gave Cleveland a 4-1 advantage.
Doubront is a strikeout pitcher, but he may take them for granted when he starts the hitter off with two strikes. Entering Sunday, opponents were 6-for-13 with three doubles against Doubront on 0-2 counts.
“Maybe just kind of rushing through the at-bat and not continuing the same approach,” manager John Farrell said of a probable issue for Doubront in those situations. “Thinking the at-bat might be over before it actually is. He gets ahead of Kipnis with two fastballs and then he misses with another fastball 0-2 for the home run. He threw two pretty good off-speed pitches to Santana today and he backed up the curveball with another one. Strikes against very good hitters, you better miss to the extreme and that hasn’t been the case.
“Even though he continues to make progress, I thought today was another step in the right direction overall, and yet you can pinpoint a couple of things he can be better at for sure.”
Doubront still hasn’t finished seven innings in a start in 2013, something he only did three times in 29 starts last year.
Farrell said before the game that some side work with pitching coach Juan Nieves had put Doubront on the right track after a pair of difficult outings earlier this month. He also said Doubront has appeared more confident when discussing matters of the mound. At times, the results were there Sunday, but so too was the obvious conclusion that more work needs to be done.