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Doubront, Red Sox close spring slate on high note

Lefty strikes out six in five scoreless innings; club heads to NY for opener

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Next time, it counts.

Before heading for the airport to begin the regular season, though, the Red Sox and Twins had one more Lee County faceoff to play. In a game that had all the hallmarks of an early Grapefruit League contest -- the top four hitters on each team were gone by the end of the fourth inning, for example -- Boston prevailed, 4-2, at JetBlue Park on Saturday afternoon.

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On Monday, Boston opens against the arch-rival Yankees in New York, while the Twins host the defending American League champion Tigers.

Left-hander Felix Doubront, penciled in as the No. 4 starter in the Red Sox rotation, pitched himself in and out of trouble. He went five innings and stranded eight runners -- four in scoring position -- while allowing six hits and a walk and hitting a batter. He also struck out six.

Doubront noted that he has the ability to leave runners on base.

"I'm good at that. With men in scoring position, men on base, I'm good," he said. "That's not my goal. My goal is to throw less pitches or get a double play. I try to stay calm and make good pitches. But if I have to strike somebody out, I can do that."

In the top of the first, Twins leadoff hitter Aaron Hicks lined out, then three of the next four batters singled to load the bases before Doubront struck out Wilkin Ramirez looking. In the second, Jacoby Ellsbury made a nice running catch on the warning track in center to rob Dan Rohlfing. Then Doubront gave up a double to Brian Dozier and walked ninth-place hitter Pedro Florimon before once again shutting the door.

"He got better as the outing went along," Boston manager John Farrell said. "We've seen it more than a couple of times this spring. He gets into that third inning and seems to get into a much better rhythm, a much better feel for his secondary stuff, and just overall more efficient. The efficiency is something we continue to strive towards. But we can't force it, either. And throughout the course of the outing, as we've seen, better touch and feel for his stuff."

That's why Doubront was allowed to throw 87 pitches.

"The way he had gotten into a better rhythm in the third and fourth, [we] wanted to continue to stick with that," Farrell said. "He was a little bit slowed coming out in camp and felt like a good work day today. He's going to have an extra day before his next outing, so that was the idea behind it."

In the meantime, the Red Sox were having a little more success against Mike Pelfrey, one of three new starters for the Twins, along with Vance Worley and Kevin Correia. He's scheduled to start the third game of the season against the Tigers on Thursday.

Ellsbury led off the bottom of the first with an infield hit, went to second on a one-out grounder and scored when Mike Napoli singled off the replica Green Monster in left. The inning ended when Napoli was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double.

Boston tacked on a run in the second after Will Middlebrooks got things started with a single up the middle. Middlebrooks stole second with two outs and came home on a single to left by Daniel Nava.

The Red Sox took control of the game in the fourth on Shane Victorino's two-out, bases-loaded single that scored a pair. That ended Pelfrey's day. He allowed four runs on nine hits and hit a batter in 3 2/3 innings.

The Twins got on the board in the eighth on Brian Dinkelman's RBI single off Andrew Bailey, scoring Harold Garcia. Eduardo Escobar drove in a run off Joel Hanrahan in the ninth on a fielder's choice.

Of course, it didn't really count. Next time, it will.

Up next: Left-hander Jon Lester will become the first Red Sox pitcher to start three straight Opening Days since Pedro Martinez (1998-2004) when he faces the Yankees on Monday in the Bronx at 1:05 p.m. ET. Lester had an 0.75 Grapefruit League ERA and will be opposed by left-hander CC Sabathia.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for

Boston Red Sox, Felix Doubront, Mike Napoli, Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino