For those of you who need a reminder about the fragility of a young pitcher’s arm, look no further than Red Sox prospect Felix Doubront. On Thursday afternoon, Red Sox manager Terry Francona announced that the 23 year old lefty would be shut down for the next 10-14 days due to tightness in his pitching elbow.
The Red Sox are taking a very conservative approach with Doubront, choosing to rest him rather than risk the possibility he changing his pitching mechanics in order to compensate for the discomfort in his elbow. Any change to his mechanics would not only have an affect on his performance, but also increase the likelihood of a more serious injury. The team made a similar move with Doubront last August when they shelved him for the remainder of the season (and winter ball) after straining his right pectoral muscle.
His injury certainly puts a damper on his chances to win a spot on the Opening Day roster as a lefty option out of the bullpen. Without sufficient time to get stretched out before Spring Training games begin, Doubront will likely have to concede the competition. Instead, front runner Hideki Okajima, and non-roster invitees Rich Hill, Andrew Miller, and Dennys Reyes will fight it out for the last spot in the bullpen.
Doubront will likely start the season in the triple-A Pawtucket rotation. Long-term, that’s probably the best move for both the Red Sox and the young lefty as it appears he needs some additional refinement. Currently, Doubront has three pitches in his repertoire: a fastball with late movement that sits 91-94 MPH; a change-up with “screwball action” that dives out of the zone; and a fringy, loopy curve ball that needs considerable work. As it stands right now, Doubront is a two-pitch pitcher (fastball-changeup) in the major leagues. While that’s acceptable for a relief pitcher, starting pitchers typically need at least three major league quality pitches to be consistently successful. Furthermore, Doubront has exhibited spotty control at points throughout his minor league career. Additional development time in the high minors, even if it’s only for two or three months, should allow him to work out some of the kinks in his performance.
If the team truly envisions Doubront as a starting pitcher, it would behoove both parties to give him more than 37 innings of exposure in triple-A. With a deep pitching staff and one minor league option remaining on Doubront, the Red Sox have the opportunity to be flexible.