The Boston Red Sox haven’t played an exhibition game yet, but they should already be worried about the future of Felix Doubront.

Last season was Doubront’s first full season with the Red Sox and he had his fair share of moments. In 29 starts, he went 11-10 with a 4.86 ERA in 161 innings of work, striking out 167 while walking 71. His inability to go deep into each game was one of the things that really held him back in 2012, averaging less than 5.2 innings per start.

Coming into 2013, Doubront’s spot in the starting rotation looks to be secure. He’ll likely be the No. 4 starter, pitching behind Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Ryan Dempster and ahead of John Lackey.

But that’s only going to happen if everything goes according to plan in spring training. And even though it’s early in camp, things haven’t gone Doubront’s way.

On Tuesday, Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe reported that Doubront will be limited in spring training due to shoulder soreness, according to manager John Farrell:

“Not because of injury situations,” said Farrell. “Just maybe some discomfort and overall strength that they [Doubront and Craig Breslow] felt in their long-toss program. More precautionary than anything.

“When they got aggressive in their long-toss program there was some sensation in there, a little bit of irritation. Want to be clear that it’s not an injury situation.”

Since when is shoulder discomfort not an injury situation? It certainly seems like one to me, especially if the Red Sox are going to limit his workouts going forward.

As Scott Lauber of The Boston Herald points out, Doubront was shut down for a couple of weeks in August due to shoulder fatigue. Lauber notes that Doubront did bounce back in his final four starts of the season, but that the number of innings Doubront tossed was a lot more than he’d ever thrown in the past.

Before throwing 161 innings in 2012, Doubront’s previous career-high was 129.1 innings in 2008 between Single- and Double-A. The large increase in workload makes you question whether the Red Sox pushed him too hard last season, especially since there wasn’t much to play for late in the year.

But putting 2012 behind Doubront, all he had to was come into spring training healthy and in good shape and it turns out he didn’t do either. His shoulder is already an issue and Lauber reports that he wasn’t in the best shape either:

Now I’m not stating that the Red Sox need to take a ton of action due to Doubront’s lackluster start to spring training. Boston shouldn’t sign free-agent starting pitcher Kyle Lohse and the Red Sox will probably refrain from doing so, according to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe.

But someone like Franklin Morales should take note of Doubront’s limitations and take full advantage of them. Morales is going to be stretched out this spring and could easily end up in the starting rotation come Opening Day should someone—Doubront, cough, cough—falter.

Doubront seems to have his head in the right place, though, according to Lauber.

“The goal for every year for every pitching is the innings: more than 200 innings or close to 200 innings” said Doubront. “That’s one of my goals. The first goal is to stay healthy and the second is probably the innings. If you do that, the rest comes—ERA, wins, losses.”

If Doubront was so set on his goals, how come he didn’t come into camp in shape?

And in regard to hitting 200 innings or close to that mark in 2013, if I’m the Red Sox, I wouldn’t even test it. General manager Ben Cherington should take a page out of Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo’s book and put an innings cap on Doubront in 2013 like Rizzo did with Stephen Strasburg last season.

The Red Sox are going to have a lot of decisions to make in the near future with their starting rotation, but Doubront looks like he will be there for a while. If Boston wants to preserve the future of its young left-hander, they need to be smart and make sure he doesn’t really hurt himself in the upcoming season.

Boston has already taken the first step of limiting his spring training workload and don’t be shocked if the Red Sox limit his regular season as well. His future is much more important than throwing an additional 35 or so innings in 2013.

The Red Sox need to make the safe call with Doubront or else he’ll be the next young starter with plenty of potential that never panned out. 

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