Doubront's first scheduled start is April 9 in Toronto, with Bard taking the ball the next day, again against the Blue Jays. The fact that Bard is technically the No. 5 starter should not be over-analyzed. The Sox do not want left-handers to pitch in back-to-back games if avoidable, and that would have been the case if Doubront were the No. 5, throwing one turn before ace Jon Lester.
"Well, Felix, I think, had the best spring of anyone," manager Bobby Valentine said. "Obviously if we just went on results, but he also progressed the way we hoped it would progress physically and mentally, to the point where we think he could be a very good Major League starting pitcher.
"Daniel Bard came in and progressed exactly the way we hoped he would progress, and so we just felt that it was at this time the right thing to do."
While there were other starting candidates on the Red Sox besides right-hander Alfredo Aceves, like Aaron Cook and Vicente Padilla, it's Aceves who is regarded most as the odd man out. Aceves was disappointed, Valentine said, but pitchers who can succeed in virtually any role, as Aceves as shown he can, might be more valuable when they aren't on an every fifth-day schedule.
"You know, he talked to you guys the day before and expressed his desire and his life dream, and the last thing -- I like to be a dream-maker, not a dream-breaker," Valentine said. "He wasn't happy about it obviously, and I told him that he has a very, very important role on this team. I think he's one of the best pitchers in camp, and trying to figure out where it is we need him the most is a very difficult, perplexing problem."
Further adding to the case for Aceves to be in the bullpen Sunday morning was Valentine's announcement that one of Boston's relievers may start the season on the disabled list. Valentine was coy about which reliever that was, but multiple reports cited a thumb injury to closer Andrew Bailey, which would leave a large hole in the back of the bullpen. Valentine said he could "very easily" see Aceves pitching in late innings.
"As far as Ace is concerned, he did nothing to not -- he didn't lose the job," Valentine said. "It's just that he, when we look at the situation with this team, it seems he has incredible value not being locked down [to being a starting pitcher] one day."
Aceves posted a 5.50 ERA in five Grapefruit League outings, three of them starts, with an impressive 15-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18 innings. Bard, too, had an eyesore for a spring ERA. The 26-year-old converted reliever went 2-2 with a 6.57 ERA in six games (five starts), striking out 18 and walking 16 in 24 2/3 innings.
But the Red Sox were able to look beyond the numbers with Bard, in part because of his ability to learn from his mistakes, and he was thankful for the team's faith. Bard acknowledged there were times when he doubted if he would make the rotation.
"I think everybody that was kind of a candidate for these rotation spots had a great spring," Bard said. "I had the worst spring, statistically. But I feel like I showed them enough where they see the light at the end of the tunnel for me, and that's kind of what I've been looking at, too. I think it shows the confidence that they have in me to see it through."
Doubront, a 24-year-old from Venezuela, has pitched in a combined 23 big league games the past two seasons, and all of his 11 appearances with the Sox last season were in relief. This spring, the southpaw posted a 2.70 ERA, with 10 strikeouts and six walks over 16 2/3 innings in four outings (three starts).
"That's, for me, what I was looking for all spring," Doubront said. "Even when I started my offseason, to hear that news, that's pretty amazing."
Doubront might have accidentally and harmlessly let the lid off the rotation decision before he was supposed to. Approached by reporters in the clubhouse Sunday morning, after he had been pulled back into the coaches' area but before Valentine had a chance to talk to the media, Doubront confirmed he was starting. Valentine was cheeky about that encounter when he talked to the media a little while later.
"You already heard Felix held his morning press conference," Valentine said. "That's good that he was able to do that."
How many innings Doubront and Bard can shoulder physically over the course of the season can't be fully predicted, but there's a mental side the pitchers can control.
Bard's last start came two days ago, against the Twins. He allowed one run in the first before settling down for four scoreless innings, but he then let up, allowing two runs in his last frame, the sixth. The lesson Bard took away from that was focus, taught to him in the framework of another sport.
"I talked to Bobby after my last outing and he made a good point," Bard said. "It was a weird comparison, but he compared pitching to tennis. When you go up 40-love on somebody and you kind of relax and you're like, 'I've got this in the bag,' and then before you know it, it's 40-40. I think the way that works for me is I got through five innings solid the other day and kind of saw the finish line."
The futures of Cook and Padilla, who both signed Minor League deals in the offseason, are still unknown. Cook is not a bullpen candidate, Valentine said, and Cook has a May 1 out-clause if he's not on the 25-man roster.