TORONTO For Felix Doubront, it was pretty simple. Just throw the ball.
Doubront started out with 3-0 counts to the first two Blue Jays hitters he faced Saturday afternoon. Not a situation any pitcher ever wants. But, he eventually got Kelly Johnson to strike out, swinging at a 93-mph fastball, and Yunel Escobar to ground out on a comebacker.
But Doubront knew he wouldnt be able to work that way all afternoon. So, he made some adjustments.
Stay back and just throw the ball and dont think too much, the left-hander said.
The result? His staff-leading sixth win of the season, as he went 6 13 innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on seven hits and a walk with seven strikeouts and two solo home runs. The 6 13 innings match a season high.
Two of the three runs he allowed came on solo home runs, one by Jeff Mathis with one out in the third, the other by Jose Bautista leading off the eighth. The other run (unearned) was a result of his own error on a chopper back to the mound by David Cooper.
I was actually thinking that today he really had better stuff than Ive seen this year as far as crispness with the fastball, good curveball, changeup, said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He just kept falling behind guys. But as far as stuffwise, I thought today he had great stuff.
Doubront improved his record to 6-2 with a 3.75 ERA. It was his sixth straight start with at least six strikeouts, matching New Yorks CC Sabathia for most among American League left-handers, and his sixth overall with at least seven strikeouts. He has 66 strikeouts over 62 13 innings this season, for a 9.53 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio.
Hes been solid. Every start hes been solid, Saltalamacchia said. He goes after guys. Same thing every time. Doesnt trick anybody. Just has great stuff, good command, the ball moves. Hes just going up there like a bulldog.
In his last six starts Doubront is 5-1 with a 2.73 ERA, while not giving up more than three earned runs in any of those outings. He has given up six earned runs over his last three starts, all on five home runs.
He does it different ways, said manager Bobby Valentine. Today he showed hes a good pitcher because he was able to win the game without having his best stuff. His 1-ball, 2-strikes count wasnt present and thats usually his trademark. He was behind hitters getting three balls on hitters and still getting them out at times. In the fourth he came up with a good curveball and started throwing it. He figured out a way to keep us in the game to win the game.
For Doubront, who was not assured of a spot in the rotation until the final days of spring training, it was his seventh quality start of the season, matching Josh Beckett for most on the staff. The Sox are 8-3 in games Doubront starts.
I think he has room for improvement, Valentine said. Thats the great thing. Hes done great so far. We are 8-3 in those 11 starts. I think hes going to learn more about this league and about himself and continue to improve. Hes got a dynamite fastball.
All of which has come as a bit of a surprise.
When you talk about a guy winning six games by June 2nd and he hadnt been in the rotation before, I cant say thats what I expected, Valentine said. But I expected quality. I just didnt know what kind of length hes be able to give us. I have an open mind. I remember one meeting in the winter when everyone was being talked about it was general manager Ben Cherington or someone from his department said, Hes out of options. If he doesnt make our team, hes going to make some team and hes going to be in their rotation. At that time I felt, why not our team?
When he gets ahead I think he can be dominating. Instead of going 3-2 as often as he does after he gets ahead on the count I think he can start putting people away. He did it on the one 0-2 count when he got boom fastball strike three, but he wasnt there very often tonight.
Its not confidence. Sometimes its maybe over confidence. You get ahead quickly and then you say now I really have a perfect pitch to make. Watch this one. Hes just missing. When he starts catching the corner with those pitches and starts throwing the pitch thats off the other pitch that theyre checking their swing on, hes not a fun at-bat. I guarantee that.