TAMPA, Fla. -- In a starting rotation that includes four accomplished veterans, Felix Doubront is still the relatively unknown fifth piece for the Red Sox.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing. There's a chance the 25-year-old lefty can put himself into a far more prominent position. He certainly doesn't lack in the talent department.
"I think we internally are all in agreement -- he's got as much talent as anybody in our rotation," said manager John Farrell. "And there's work to be done to strive for consistency, whether it's game to game or inning to inning or just finishing off hitters in a more efficient manner. That's not because of a lack of attempt or trying. It's just his further maturing as a pitcher."
Last year, Doubront pitched a professional-high 161 innings for the Red Sox, his first full season in a Major League starting rotation. He started strong and faltered a bit down the stretch, notching an 11-10 record and a 4.86 ERA.
With the Red Sox out of contention, it was the perfect environment for Doubront to be able to learn on the fly and take some lumps along the way.
This season, he wants to minimize the damage in quicker fashion. In Wednesday's start against the Yankees, Doubront had one loud hiccup -- giving up four runs in the second inning. He put up zeros in the first, third and fourth. After he recorded the first out of the fifth inning, Doubront was replaced by Andrew Bailey.
If it didn't look like a great start on the stat sheet, Doubront was actually enthused by what happened from a learning standpoint.
"Yeah, like I say, I felt happy for this outing, because I learned a lot," Doubront said. "I threw so many quality pitches that I felt good about. It was just one inning, it happened. The big thing is that I came back feeling good and making better adjustments that will help me to get through the other innings."
What in particular was Doubront talking about?
"I have to stay tall, more to stay behind the ball, and drive it to home plate," Doubront said. "That was the only adjustment I made and all the pitches came back again."
The art of tinkering -- and seeing an immediate result from it -- was obviously gratifying for Doubront. Perhaps the adjustment wouldn't have been so seamless last year.
"I keep learning," Doubront said. "Every outing I learn a little bit more. Like I said before, I'm so happy. I feel good. My arm feels good. I was driving the ball down. That adjustment that I made -- to stay tall and stay back on the rubber, that makes me happy. I think that from now on, I'm going to get that and put it in every start just to make a quality start every time out."
Yes, consistency. That is the element that will transform Doubront from just another starting pitcher with high-caliber stuff to one who can be counted on every time he pitches.
At this time last year, Doubront was in the process of solidifying his rotation spot. This spring, there was no ambiguity. Doubront knew he would be in Boston's rotation. The only problem was some shoulder weakness he felt at the start of camp. But ever since he nipped that in the bud, it has been full speed ahead.
"It's higher," Doubront said of his confidence. "It's more confidence, more a case of, I'm relaxed and calm. I have to just make the adjustment to learn and pitch to be successful in the season."
And Doubront also has another veteran catcher to learn from in David Ross. Part of the struggles Doubront had Wednesday was that this was the first time he had worked with Ross in a game.
"I was a little hindrance for him," Ross said. "I was just trying to get a feel for him, just trying to see how he pitches. That one inning, I was out of sync with him, not knowing his pitching style and how he gets out of trouble. That bad inning was as much to do with me as anything."
For a catcher like Ross, who loves the dynamic of working with pitchers, watching the evolution of a young pitcher is one of the best parts of the job. He looks forward to seeing what Doubront can do over the course of the season.
"He's got good stuff. He gets the ball. He wants to go. He's got great life on his fastball," Ross said. "Great changeup. Breaking ball, when it was working today, was really sharp. That's a fun guy -- a lefty throwing that easy. The ball comes out of his hand real easy. I love the way he goes about his business and his stuff. He's a good pitcher."
The 2012 season was a depressing one for just about all things that had to do with the Red Sox, but one of the bright spots was Doubront. He will now take all those lessons he learned and apply them to the coming season's body of work.
"There's no replacing a full cycle," Farrell said. "Your body is going to go through some things that it might not otherwise experience at the Minor League level, particularly when you add the intensity and the stress to the pitches thrown throughout the course of a given year. There's really no reproducing or replacing that first full season.
"I'm sure there's -- in his mind -- ways to tap back into that and use that as a strong reference point for him. In terms of just stuff and definition of certain types of pitches, he's got a very good arsenal."