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Ben Cherington: Conditioning is ‘something we’ve talked to [Felix Doubront] about’

02.16.13 at 6:39 pm ET

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The moment of truth might finally be here for Felix Doubront.

Based on his performance in 2012, the left-hander entered spring training as a member of the rotation upon whom the Red Sox planned to rely. But the question hanging over the 25-year-old Venezuelan is: can he stay healthy?

In a three-season career with the Red Sox, Doubront has a 17’€“19 record with a 4.57 ERA and a 3.17 strikeout-to-walk ratio (228-to-72) in 271 2/3 innings.

Two seasons ago, after promising glimpses as a starter and reliever in the big leagues in 2010, Doubront’s growth was stunted when he reported to camp out of shape prior to the 2011 season. He subsequently came up with forearm tightness in his throwing arm at the start of camp, the first of a succession of injuries — arm, groin, hamstring — that left him in Triple-A for most of the season and rendered his contributions to the big league team minimal.

A minor knee injury slowed him briefly during the 2012 campaign. Still, Doubront entered last season as a starter and started strong, beating out Aaron Cook and Alfredo Aceves in spring training. With Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester getting off to relatively slow starts, and Daniel Bard being demoted to the minors Doubront got off to a good start, going 5-2 in his first 10 starts.

There have been glimpses of greatness. Last June, Doubront took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the Miami Marlins. He finished the game giving up two runs on three hits and earned a win. He ended the season with a positive first year having a full time starting job, with a record of 11-10 and more than a strikeout per inning.

Now, Doubront is being held back because of shoulder fatigue.

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington stopped short of calling out the pitcher for reporting to camp out of shape Saturday, lumping him in with the rehabbing Craig Breslow and Buchholz. All three took part in pitchers’ fielding drills Saturday.

“I think we’€™re kind of taking advantage of a longer spring training to go slow, and I guess you could say the same with Buchholz and Breslow,” Cherington said. “Guys that are moving a little bit slower out of the gate. I think if the opening day clock was coming on us quicker, you’€™d probably see them further advanced in their schedules by now. All three of those guys are feeling good and on a schedule now. Felix should be off the mound some time this coming week. So he’€™s got plenty of time.”

Doubront is expected to get back on a mound Wednesday and begin pitching again. As for his conditioning, Cherington said the team is convinced Doubront will respond to the team’s directives in order to get in shape by the start of the year.

“Well it’€™s important for a starting pitcher to do what they have to do to give themselves a chance to take the ball 30 times,” Cherington said. “And Felix knows that. It’€™s something we’€™ve talked to him over time about, not just this spring but over the years about. And he understands that. When he’€™s with us and we’€™re asking him to do stuff he always does it, does it with high intensity. So he’€™s got plenty of time now, between now and early April to do what he needs to do to put himself in a position to be one of our starters and be a guy we can rely on every fifth day.”

The significance of Doubront to the Red Sox for the short- and long-term is considerable. As a young starter who remains two years away from arbitration eligibility and five seasons from free agency, there is a chance for him to be a rotation building block. But that will only happen if his commitment to achieving that status matches his talent. And the Red Sox plan to challenge Doubront to make sure those two traits align.

“By far the best way to build a pitching staff is to integrate a young pitcher into the rotation and see him succeed. It’s one thing to get to the big leagues and be a starter, but it’s another to succeed and actually take on meaningful innings. That helps us build a rotation more than anything else,” explained Cherington. “Right now, Felix is the most recent guy to do that. We’re going to continue to push him. He knows that. He has a chance to be really good. With the guys who have a chance to be really good, we owe it to them to push them. We’ll keep doing that.”

Read More: 2013 spring training, alfredo aceves, ben cherington, Boston Red Sox
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