TAMPA, Fla. – The only three regulars playing Wednesday for the New York Yankees came to bat against Felix Doubront in the first inning.
Doubront struck out Brett Gardner looking at a change-up. He struck out Eduardo Nunez on three pitches and got Kevin Youkilis to ground out.
As easy as 1-2-3. Eleven pitches, eight strikes.
“He has great stuff,” said new Boston catcher David Ross, receiving Doubront for the first time.
A left-hander with a lively fastball, freezing change-up and buckling curveball, Doubront pitched in Portland in 2009 and part of 2010. He spent all of 2012 in the majors and seems on the threshold of becoming an all-star type pitcher.
Manager John Farrell, who was the Red Sox pitching coach from 2007-10, doesn’t shy away from the hype.
“Internally we are all in agreement that he has as much talent as anyone in the rotation,” Farrell said.
The Red Sox front office and coaches may all gush over Doubront, but the excitement is tempered.
Doubront may be at the threshold. Crossing it is another matter.
“There is work to be done,” Farrell said. “To strive for consistency, whether it be game to game, inning to inning, or finishing a hitter in a more efficient manner.”
And that brings us to the second inning.
Doubront hung an 0-and-2 change-up to the first batter and Juan Rivera singled. That change-up should have set off all kinds of alarms. Doubront was rushing his windup, leaning to the plate too quickly.
“When he stayed tall, the ball was going where he wanted it to,” Ross said.
But in the second inning, Doubront was out of whack. He was leaving fastballs over the plate. His curveball was flat.
Doubront was getting hit and Ross wasn’t sure what to do.
“I got out of sync with him, not knowing his pitching style and not knowing how he gets out of trouble,” Ross said. “That bad inning has as much to do with me as anything.”
A true catcher — protecting his pitcher and taking the blame.
But Doubront also needs to grow — “just further maturing as a pitcher,” as Farrell put it.
In that second, Doubront allowed five hits and a walk. The result was four runs, the only runs scored in a 4-0 Yankees win.
After the second inning, Doubront faced 10 more batters, retiring seven (one batter reached on an error and two singled).
“I feel happy. I learned a lot,” Doubront said after the game. “I feel good that I made the adjustments to get through the other innings.
“I keep learning. Every outing I learn a little more. Just one (bad) inning. It happens.”
But the key is to stop letting it happen when the games count.
If the Red Sox are to contend, they obviously need bounce-back years from their top guys, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Boston also could use Doubront to improve on his rookie season, a solid 11-10 with a 4.86 ERA.
“I have more confidence. I’m relaxed. I’m calm,” Doubront said. “I have to make the right adjustment, learn and to pitch.”
Doubront said his problem Wednesday was tempo. Farrell and new pitching coach Juan Nieves are emphasizing a quicker tempo for Sox pitchers. (Can we hear an Amen on that?) Doubront said he over-did it.
“Too quick,” he said.
Farrell saw it. “He kind of dives toward the plate a little bit and leaves his arm behind. When he stands a little taller, it gives his arm a chance to catch up.”
Catching up. That’s the game Doubront is playing, striving to reach the potential the Red Sox believe is there.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: