BOSTON -- Felix Doubront showed up for spring training out of shape and lagging behind the Boston Red Sox's other pitchers. But against all odds, he has joined John Lackey as the team's most consistent starters.
Doubront's latest gem came Sunday when he threw seven scoreless innings in a series-clinching 4-0 victory over the Diamondbacks at Fenway Park. It marked the 15th consecutive start in which he allowed no more than three earned runs, the longest such streak by a Sox pitcher since Tim Wakefield's 17-game run in 1995.
Surprised? Don't be, according to pitching coach Juan Nieves, who insists he saw this coming even in February.
"It was expected," Nieves said. "This guy was behind the 8-ball for a while. We knew it in spring training. It was a matter of his stuff getting sharper, him getting more comfortable with his delivery, and this is what you see."
Doubront even made sure manager John Farrell had cause to celebrate on his 51st birthday. The 25-year-old allowed only five hits, struck out five and threw 95 pitches, pitching into the seventh inning for the sixth time in seven starts.
"It's his birthday?" Doubront said. "Happy birthday. We won."
Perhaps none of the Red Sox have come as far as Doubront, removed from the rotation for one start in early May after continuing to throw too many pitches and failing to get beyond the fifth or sixth inning. But since May 16, Doubront has a 2.55 ERA, sixth-best among American League starters who have thrown at least 50 innings. He also hasn't allowed a homer since July 5, a span of five starts.
The difference: He's learned to pitch.
"He's not trying to overpower anybody," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "It's not, 'All right, I've got to throw 95 (mph) every pitch on the corners.' He realizes now that that doesn't have to happen. He's got it if he needs it, but he can pitch 88-90, 92 and get outs. Location of your stuff is always best."
As a result, Doubront has been able to get hitters to make weak contact earlier in counts, and therefore, keep his pitch count low enough to work deeper into games.
Against the Diamondbacks, he didn't allow a runner into scoring position until the seventh inning, when he also felt a twinge in his left side. After a visit from Farrell and athletic trainer Rick Jameyson, Doubront stayed in the game and didn't feel the discomfort again.
"My side was a little bit tight because between innings, it was a long time. It made me tired a little bit," Doubront said. "Just for one pitch. The next one felt good."
Looked good, too. Doubront finished the inning, then yielded to the bullpen for the final six outs.
"He's the type of guy that, you throw him in a corner, he's always up for the challenge," Saltalamacchia said. "When he gets pushed into a corner, like in spring training and then a couple times this year with going to the bullpen, he's proven that this is where he wants to be."