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Felix Doubront Gets the Call…to the Bullpen

Felix Doubront Red Sox team photo (Photo courtesy AP)

The Major League Baseball trade deadline came and went for the Red Sox, absent of any wave-making news. There was no Manny Ramirez to ship out of town or Eric Gagne headed in, this year, Boston brass felt fine standing pat. Relief pitching often comes at a premium mid-summer, and rather than invite new faces, the Red Sox are simply shuffling the deck. Terry Francona said that lefty phenom Felix Doubront was informed Friday that he would be pitching out of the bullpen. The move comes as a certain change for Doubront, and will last for the remainder of the season.

“Everybody involved thinks that this kid has a chance to impact us going forward this year in the bullpen,” Francona told The Boston Globe. Doubront, 22, is 1-2 with an ERA of 4.11 for the Red Sox. As a starter, he cruised through minor-league lineups, going 8-3, with a 2.88 ERA in 16 starts. When asked about moving to the bullpen on July 5, Doubront made it clear that he was not a fan of the idea.

“I don’t know about that. It’s not easy. The transition from a starter to a reliever, it’s not easy.” Doubrant said. ”It’s something where you have to work for six months or a complete year. I don’t know about that.”

His outlook is understandable when considering that most MLB pitchers are creatures of comfort. Being ready every day is a far different challenge than getting up once every five games. Former Red Sox pitchers such as Pedro Martinez and Curt Shilling were known for their silence on days that they pitched. Schilling aside, Martinez loved acting up and having fun on his off-days, something Doubront will not be guaranteed for the rest of the season.

The Red Sox are no strangers to the starter-turned-reliever experiment. Though difficult to imagine now, Jonathan Papelbon was a very highly touted starting pitcher until Boston put the club’s needs ahead of a player’s development. Though the plan was to move Papelbon into the five-man rotation, Red Sox fans haven’t seen him pitch before the eighth inning in years. The workload required to build up a starting pitcher’s arm just doesn’t come from relief appearances, unfortunately. A starter is built through starting games and staying there, piling up innings and arm strength to go along with it. Francona, however, doesn’t seem concerned.

“He throws strikes, he’s quick to the plate, the game doesn’t speed up [for him]. The one thing is he hasn’t done it. He’s been groomed as a starter, so getting up in the middle of the game, there’s some things to get used to,” Francona said, skimming over the fact that bullpen work will indeed be a first for the young pitcher.

Moving a young starter to relief work could also have a negative impact on Doubront’s confidence if he feels the club does not find him fit to begin games. Many pitchers feel the bullpen serves as a de facto demotion, and Francona knows this, too.

“Everybody involved thinks that this kid has a chance to impact us going forward this year in the bullpen,” Francona said. “Now that in no way means we [don't] also view him as a starter. He’s going to be a starter, a major-league starter. But I think for the rest of the year he maybe has a chance to impact us out of the bullpen.”

There you have it. All the angles have been covered, albeit with kid gloves, but Francona and the Red Sox are saying the right things in hopes of giving Doubront a chance to succeed. Though they would like to see him succeed in the long run, the club needs him now. If Doubront can provide the bridge to Daniel Bard and Papelbon, then he will have done all that Boston can hope for and be in prime standing heading into next season.

If Doubront fails, at least he can look back to that quote from July 5 and say, “I told ya so.”

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