Tuesday night's start against the Athletics represented much of the positive and negative of Felix Doubront as a starting pitcher. His pitch count climbed quickly, leading to his exit after just four frames thanks to inconsistent command, and he allowed five runs due with the help of a pair of wild pitches and productive Oakland baserunning. At the same time, Doubront struck out eight hitters, and now leads the American League in strikeouts per nine because of it.
In the first inning, just 17 of his 30 pitches were thrown for strikes, and he had a similar issue in the fourth (19 of 32). In between, though, Doubront threw 22 of 32 pitches for strikes, and looked as if he were going to recover from his early racking up of the pitch count. He had his change-up working for him nearly the entire start, with 19 of those 25 offerings going for strikes, including seven that induced swings-and-misses. All but one of his change-ups were a strike that was not put in play, either; no trouble locating his most-effective pitch.
He also found success with his four-seamer, throwing over two-thirds of them for strikes, but his sinker failed him. He threw that 31 times, the most of any pitch, and just 16 of them were strikes. His sinker has been his go-to offering in 2012, and has mostly been effective for him in terms of whiffs and grounders, but he just couldn't locate it effectively on Tuesday. While he countered this to a degree with more change-ups than he normally throws, it wasn't enough to get him through a full start.
Doubront now sports a 5.19 ERA in his 26 innings, but like with many early-season samples, that doesn't tell the whole story. He's shown an ability to miss bats -- and often -- and each of his five offerings has been effective for him at different times this year. He's pitched well while striking hitters out, or inducing grounders, but with all three of his fastballs -- four-seam, sinker, and cutter -- he has had trouble avoiding foul balls that cause his pitch count to climb.
Stuff isn't the issue with Doubront, but efficiency is. It's early and he's learning -- his constant use of the change-up when it was working for him against the Athletics is an example of this -- so he can be forgiven for this, especially when the underlying numbers (10.4 strikeouts per nine, 2.5 K/BB, 3.21 FIP) are all so promising.
He'll need to rely on his off-speed and breaking stuff a bit more in the future to avoid having his pitch counts climb the way they have in his first five starts, but that's just an approach change. It's far easier to change his pitch selection than it is to add useful pitches to a repertoire, and if Doubront's got one thing to his credit, it's useful pitches.
PITCHf/x data courtesy of Brooks Baseball