Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Doubront gives Sox what they need
By Jayson Jenks
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It isn’t often that, after a pitcher gives up four earned runs in 6 1/3 innings, he is showered with praise from his manager and teammates.
Then again, it isn’t often that a team uses seven relievers and one position player in a single game or throws its bullpen for 26 2/3 innings in a three-game series.
And so within that context, with the understanding that he had to give the Red Sox some innings, Felix Doubront pitched the kind of game his team needed, helping Boston snap a five-game losing streak with an 11-6 win Monday against the Kansas City Royals.
“His line is not going to show how well he threw the ball,” Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach said. “He was actually more crisp as the game went on and had more life on his fastball. I thought his last four innings are as good as he’s thrown this year.”
Doubront hardly tossed a clean game; he gave up seven hits and four earned runs while loading the bases before exiting in the seventh. Yet those numbers, in some way, meant just as much as these two: 111 pitches that carried him through 6 1/3 innings. This was not a refined masterpiece displaying the art of efficient pitching. No, to quote the esteemed anthropologist Larry the Cable Guy, this was a lesson in simply gittin-r-done.
His outing was far from flawless, but Felix Doubront gave the Sox bullpen some much-needed rest.
“Gave us exactly what we needed,” Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said, which is true.
Valentine also delivered a teaching moment -- and perhaps a message -- to Doubront, his 24-year-old lefty. After a four-pitch walk to Billy Butler in the first inning, Valentine left the dugout for a meeting with Doubront on the mound.
“I think there are starting pitchers that are falling into a habit I don’t want to see: complaining about the umpire,” Valentine said. “I went out and tried to put a stop to it before it spread. There were a couple pitches that were close, and he stood there and looked at the umpire. That’s not the way we’re going to start this stuff.”
Said Doubront of his manager’s early visit: “I focused more and forgot about those calls.”
It may have been even more important on a night when the depleted Red Sox bullpen had few options to catch Doubront if he stumbled. A 17-inning game against Baltimore on Sunday capped a series-long trend in which Boston’s bullpen had to log some serious work.
Valentine and Doubront both had an understanding of what that meant: Doubront, a talented but inefficient pitcher, needed to chew up innings. He entered averaging slightly more than five innings per start.
“That was one of my goals: try to get the most innings I can and battle to the end,” Doubront said.
He did that -- until the seventh inning. That’s when the wheels started to come off on an otherwise solid, if unremarkable, outing. Three singles, none particularly well hit, loaded the bases with one out and Boston holding a three-run lead.
Doubront walked Alex Gordon, ending his night and turning the game over to that overworked bullpen. In came Vicente Padilla, one of the few available relievers. He promptly forced Billy Butler, the Royals’ best hitter, to hit into an inning-ending double play, then stayed in to close out the game.
More important, Padilla restored order to the Boston bullpen, which badly needed a day of insignificant toil.
“He got a save, and he deserved a number, deserved a statistic,” Valentine said. “He came in, gets the double play and creates a situation where our bullpen can be almost normal tomorrow.”
The Red Sox offense also provided Doubront with plenty of wiggle room for mistakes, which he made at times. The Boston bats came out booming, pounding Kansas City’s leaky pitching staff.
David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia contributed home runs and multihit games, but rookie Will Middlebrooks outdid them both in continuing his hot start with two homers and a double. He hit one home run down the right-field line, one down the left-field line and hit his double to center field.
“That just kind of comes with developing my approach and sticking with it,” Middlebrooks said. “Certain guys I’ll look away or if I know a guy’s going to come in or with a certain pitch, I’ll look for that.”
And filed under the hard-to-believe category, Shoppach hit the first triple of his career -- and it only took him 1,525 plate appearances spanning eight years to do so. Shoppach entered with the fourth-most plate appearances ever without a triple. It was the longest streak among active players.
“First triple ever,” Valentine marveled. “Ever. High school, college, pros. Ever. First triple.”
It all added up to a bounce-back win following Sunday’s 17-inning marathon loss, a loss that capped a series sweep against the Orioles in Boston.
“Making that flight here after that game and having that effort, I know we’re talking about small victories, but they can all be proud of what they did today,” Valentine said. “Really easy not to do what they did.”