Doubront: 'This is a big year for me'

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Derek Lowe, shelled in September, went into the 2004 postseason convinced manager Terry Francona would rather ask for volunteers than give Lowe the ball. And he might have been right.

But Lowe won the deciding game of the American League Division Series against the Angels in relief, started and won Game 7 over the Yankees in the ALCS, then shut out the Cardinals through seven innings to complete a four-game sweep in the World Series. On the outs one day, claiming his rightful place on a duck boat the next.

Felix Doubront went into last October wondering if he'd even have a place on the postseason roster, with reason. Manager John Farrell wanted to use the left-handed starter out of the pen in the playoffs, but Doubront, unaccustomed to the role and initially not keen on the assignment, was lit up by the Orioles in a tune-up in Baltimore. If Matt Thornton hadn't been such a disappointment after being acquired from the White Sox, Doubront might have been watching the playoffs on TV.

Instead, after some attitude adjustment instigated by the manager, Doubront decided that maybe relieving wasn't so bad after all. He didn't pitch in the first round against the Rays, then was used twice against the Tigers in the ALCS in games in which the Sox trailed badly. Not exactly inspiring stuff, though he held the Tigers scoreless both times.

But then came the World Series, and while it lacked the drama of Lowe, behold, maybe the Red Sox don't win the Series without Doubront. He rescued Jake Peavy after four innings in Game 3 and pitched scoreless fifth and sixth innings in a 5-4 Sox loss. The Sox, who trailed the Series two games to one, entered Game 4 relying on a gassed Clay Buchholz.

Buchholz lasted four innings and the Sox trailed 1-0 and were looking at being a game away from elimination. But encouraged by what he'd seen the night before, Farrell turned again to Doubront, who retired the first eight batters he faced. Jonny Gomes went deep, Doubront was credited with the win in a 4-2 victory that evened the Series at 2-2 and the Sox, after winning Game 5 in St. Louis, closed out the Cardinals back in the Fens.

"I felt really strong in that moment," Doubront said. "Everything changed."

And just like Lowe, Doubront was feeling the love again -- and discovering that his family back in Venezuela was much bigger than he imagined.

"It was crazy," Doubront said about his return home in December to Puerto Cabello, about two hours' drive from the capital city of Caracas. "Everybody was coming to my house, everyone wanted to see me. I got together with a lot of family, a lot. Including family who saw on TV that my last name was Doubront and said, 'You're my family.'

"They threw a big party for me in my hometown. This [winter], I have to bring my [Series] ring."

But it is here where the storylines diverge further. By the following spring, Lowe was gone, having parlayed his postseason success into a lush free-agent contract with the Dodgers.

Doubront, meanwhile, is back, while just missing out on what would have been the biggest payday of his life to date. He missed by two days the cutoff to be a "Super Two" player, which would have made him arbitration-eligible and almost certainly a millionaire. Instead, he'll have to wait another year.

And his return to the Sox rotation, while expected, is not a given. Doubront is competing with veterans Peavy and Ryan Dempster for either the fourth or fifth slot in the rotation, and there are a host of young arms in camp -- Allen Webster, Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, Henry Owens -- clamoring for the chance to prove themselves.

None of this, it appears, is lost on Doubront, who caused consternation last spring when he showed up to camp out of shape, soon had a sore shoulder and wore down by September. The Sox mandated that he do differently this spring, which is why he was smiling so broadly here Thursday, happy to show off his toned physique and speak of his healthy shoulder.

When he throws a bullpen Friday morning, he said, it will already be the sixth time he has thrown off a mound. The first official workout of camp is not until Monday, and he said he's already up to 35 pitches.

"I'm growing up," he said.

Supporting that declaration is the fact that he spent seven weeks -- interrupted only by his trip home -- working out at the IMG facility in Sarasota.

"I worked hard," he said. "I worked on becoming stronger. That's the goal this year, to be strong the whole year.

"This is a big year for me. I have to work hard."

This might be the season, after two years of showing great potential , that decides Doubront's long-term future with the team. Pitch well and he could be a fixture in the Sox rotation for years to come. If not, he sees the young arms stacked behind him.

While he said he is not worried about how his role shakes out this spring -- "it's their decision" -- he left no doubt about how he sees himself. "I'm a major league starter," he said.

And he said he has taken steps this winter to make himself a better one, more capable of throwing strikes with greater regularity.

"Everything -- my arm speed, change my mechanics a little bit, try to be more short and quick [to the plate], a lot of things are new for me," said Doubront, who said he spoke frequently with pitching coach Juan Nieves over the winter. "I made my windup, my stretch more simple. You'll see.

"But the big thing is I'm feeling good, great."