Felix Doubront has had no trouble recording outs in the 2012 season, his first as a full-time starter. His issues have been more in the realm of efficiency: in his 12 starts prior to Wednesday's, he had pitched in the seventh inning just twice, and had failed to throw more than 6-1/3 frames in any start. In fact, he was averaging just under 5-2/3 innings per game; while that's fine for a fifth starter, you'd like to see just a bit more out of someone with Doubront's wicked stuff.
Facing a National League lineup on the road -- giving him a chance to feast on the opposing pitcher at the plate -- helped Doubront to his first start of seven innings in the majors ever, and also resulted in his loftiest Game Score to date. He didn't allow a hit until the sixth, when he gave up a solo home run to shortstop Jose Reyes, but he struck out the side in that frame, all swinging. All told, he allowed three hits, two walks, and struck out nine over seven.
It took just 99 pitches to get there, and even though the pitcher hitting was mentioned above, it wasn't that significant for Doubront. Ricky Nolasco, the opposing starter, stepped into the box just once against Doubront, and struck out looking (one of three backwards K in the inning). By the time his spot in the lineup came up again, he was already out of the game, resulting in Doubront facing pinch-hitter Austin Kearns the second time around.
Doubront averaged 14 pitches per inning, and, except for in the first, threw strikes at an above-average rate the entire evening (data courtesy Brooks Baseball):
|Inning||Pitches in Inning||Strikes in Inning||Strike% in Inning|
A 12-pitch seventh was a great sign from Doubront, who has become visibly tired in his starts. It was to the point where, if he wasn't hitting in the top of the eighth in what was then still something of a close game at 4-2, he might very well have stayed in to at least start the next inning. Pinch-hitting worked out just fine, though, with the Red Sox scoring six more runs in the eighth, the first of which was Nick Punto, who came in for Doubront.
All of Doubront's stuff was working for him. Roughly half of his pitches were four-seam fastballs, and not only did he throw 73 percent of them for strikes, but five of them induced swings-and-misses. His location was excellent, with 22 of the 48 coming in as called strikes (the rest either balls, in play, or whiffed on). His sinker didn't induce many grounders -- Doubront had just the two ground outs on the night -- but he threw it for strikes as well. His bender and change-up both saw some play, and each induced swings-and-misses, and the curve repeatedly found its way into the strike zone when needed.
This is the best we've seen Felix Doubront. He had struck out nine hitters before, in a six-inning start against the Orioles in May, but this was his longest, most-efficient game of the season, and one in which he was nigh untouchable for most of it. More of this, and his season won't need any kind of "...for a fifth starter" caveat attached to it.