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Felix Doubront hopes offseason serves as springboard to 2014 breakthrough

02.13.14 at 5:45 pm ET
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It’s not that 2013 was a bad season for Felix Doubront. It’s simply that there was a sense that there could have been more.

The left-hander went 11-6 with a 4.32 ERA in 29 games (27 starts) spanning 162 1/3 innings in 2013 — decent enough numbers for a back-of-the-rotation pitcher. Yet he also showed considerable potential to be more than that, particularly during an 18-start stretch from late-May through the end of August in which Doubront went 7-5 with a 2.96 ERA while averaging just over six innings a start. That strong push, however, yielded to a season-ending skid in which Doubront staggered through a 17-run yield in 15 2/3 September innings (9.77 ERA), requiring a period of 16 days in which he didn’t pitch, the second straight year in which he was shut down in September.

While Doubront recovered to deliver some critical innings in the postseason (one run in seven innings), the memory of his inability to finish out the season guided his offseason program. Doubront — whose conditioning at the start of spring training in 2013 represented a source of concern for the Sox for the second time in three years — thus spent seven weeks of the offseason working out at the IMG facility in Sarasota, in preparation for what he suggested would be a step forward in his career.

“That was a big part of this offseason, to get stronger, so I can stay strong the whole season. That’€™s what I was focused on this offseason,” Doubront told reporters. “That’€™s the goal that I did this year … is to be strong the whole year and it’€™s a big year for me too. I’€™ll work hard for that. … That’s the main goal to go up to 200 innings. That’s the first goal I have, and to stay healthy the whole season.”

To reach that innings plateau, of course, Doubront would have to be in the rotation. While he is generally considered a likely starter, however, given that the Sox do have a numbers crunch among their rotation possibilities (with Doubront one of six experienced starters in Boston, along with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster), raising at least the possibility that he will have to earn a spot as a starter. Doubront — who suggested prior to the postseason that he wasn’t comfortable pitching out of the bullpen, but ultimately contributed significantly in just that role — made clear that he intends to put himself in the best possible position to lay claim to a place in the Sox rotation.

“I’€™m a starter, I feel like I’€™m there, man. I’€™m there for something. I have a lot of years to do that and the main thing is to keep myself strong,” Doubront told reporters. “I’€™m trying to learn more and try to be that strong starting pitcher.”

Toward that end, Doubront — who has already thrown a number of bullpen sessions this spring — said that he’s made some mechanical alterations, a byproduct of his increased shoulder strength this spring. He suggested that he is trying to simplify his delivery in an effort to become more aggressive in attacking the strike zone.

“I changed my mechanics a little bit. Trying to be shorter. There’€™s a lot of things new for me. The big thing is that I feel good, I feel great,” Doubront told reporters, describing the change as “making my windup from the stretch more simple. My shoulder is strong now so I’€™m changing all my mechanics. It’€™s a little bit different, but more throwing strikes. Everything changed.”

So, too, does Doubront hope to change the questions that he left hanging about his abilities late in the last two seasons. He’s shown flashes of excellence, with legitimate swing-and-miss stuff (8.5 strikeouts per nine innings the last two years); now, he is looking to use his conditioning and delivery adjustments as a springboard to a full season of accomplishment.

“I feel like with the experience of one more year,” said Doubront, “I’€™m growing up.”

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