CHICAGO — Felix Doubront did more than enough to earn himself at least another start while simultaneously buying the Toronto Blue Jays time to figure out what they’re going to do with their starting rotation.
The 27-year-old left-hander, the latest patch inserted to help cover Aaron Sanchez’s continued absence, delivered 6.2 innings of strong one-run ball in a 2-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night, holding down baseball’s worst offence to outduel Jose Quintana.
The victory was just the Blue Jays’ fourth this season when they score less than three runs, and few would have envisioned Doubront, a minor-league free agent signed April 2 for some triple-A depth, to deliver an outing good enough to make it happen.
But after both Scott Copeland and Matt Boyd simmered out after promising beginnings, opportunity beckoned, and manager John Gibbons replied “of course” when asked if Doubront will start Sunday’s finale against the Kansas City Royals before the all-star break.
“I am so blessed to be here again on this team with an opportunity. I was there giving everything, trying to help the team win is the main goal,” said Doubront, who allowed one run on six hits and a walk with six strikeouts.
“I was just having fun, I can’t worry about [his job status] pitching because it’s going to get stuck in your mind, and you really won’t have the results I had. I was just having fun, throwing strikes, and keeping the hitters off balance.”
The AL Central leading Royals will offer a better measuring stick Sunday, and what happens once play resumes after the break is far from certain.
The Blue Jays won’t need a fifth starter again until July 25 at Seattle, a span of 2½ weeks for either Sanchez to complete a rehab assignment — which started Tuesday afternoon with two innings in the Gulf Coast League — or for GM Alex Anthopoulos to pull off a trade.
Sanchez allowed two runs on three hits and a walk with one strikeout and Gibbons said the electric right-hander “felt good,” in his first game action since emerging from his June 5 gem against Houston with a lat strain.
The notion of him returning as a reliever has been discussed since, and Gibbons reiterated the point when he said “that could happen, but we’re gearing him up to start. We’ll see how he holds up and make sure that he still feels good.”
There can’t be a role change for Sanchez without someone to cover for him in the rotation and whether Doubront, who won 11 games in both 2012 and ’13 while logging 161 and 162.1 innings for the Boston Red Sox, could be more than a fill-in is an interesting question.
“Healthy, healthy,” Doubront replied when asked if he’s much different than the pitcher he was with the Red Sox. “My arm feels great, my shoulder feels good, the best part is being healthy and throwing the ball 100 per cent.”
Still, by no coincidence, Daniel Norris is pitching on turn with Doubront at Buffalo, and he threw seven innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts against Rochester on Tuesday. He’s a factor here, too.
Either way, the opportunity belongs to Doubront right now, and he made sure a Jose Bautista run-scoring groundout in the first and a Josh Donaldson solo blast to right field in the fourth stood.
“He just looked like a starter out there,” said Gibbons. “He was using everything, I thought Russell [Martin] did a great job getting everything out of him and he looked strong. There’s something to be said about being a veteran.”
Doubront left after allowing a two-out Adam Eaton single in the seventh and Bo Schultz came on and promptly retired Jose Abreu on a fielder’s choice to end the frame.
He picked up two more outs in the eighth before Aaron Loup came in to get Adam LaRoche on a grounder to first, and in the ninth, Roberto Osuna stranded Alexei Ramirez on third base to earn his fourth save.
“We’re used to slugfests, it’s nice to play a game like that and come up on top,” said Gibbons. “Doubront was great, the bullpen came through and Osuna looks like a veteran out there.”
The Blue Jays are now 10-16 in one-run games, after opening the season 2-12 in such contests.
“You have some guys who are stepping and starting to get their roles,” Donaldson said in explaining the improvement, “and overall, for the most part, we’re playing better baseball.”
Doubront helped them to do just that Tuesday night, and the Blue Jays can only hope he can keep it going for longer than his predecessors did.