Middlebrooks gets first look at first base

Middlebrooks gets first look at first base
September 21, 2013, 8:00 pm
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BOSTON – A day after clinching their first American League East title since 2007, the Red Sox are going with a different look to their starting lineup Saturday night against the Blue Jays:
Drew, SS
Victorino, CF
Ortiz, DH
Gomes, LF
Nava, RF
Middlebrooks, 1B
Bogaerts, 3B
Ross, C
McDonald, 2B
Buchholz, RHP
The most intriguing of these is Will Middlebrooks at first base. Middlebrooks, who was drafted by the Sox in 2007, is playing first base as a professional, and Middlebrooks said it is the first time he has played the position at any level.
Moving him to first from his usual position at third base allows the Sox to see what Middlebrooks might be able to offer in case they need to use him there in the postseason – in case a pinch-runner is needed for Mike Napoli, for instance.
“Anytime you move to a different position it’s going to take some repetition,” said manager John Farrell. “Still, you’re on a corner so there’s a similar reaction time that’s going to be required there. In the case of tonight, Will has been so accustomed to seeing a right-handed hitter, and the reaction time is going to be different because it’s a lefty…But again, he’s an infielder, that’s required to do some things reactionary and that going to be the same with first base.”
He has appeared in two games this season at second base, giving him some looks from the right side of the infield.
“I don’t know if it’s going to have a huge impact [tonight],” Farrell said. “But that’s why we felt with him shifting over in those alignments, him being our backup second baseman was not a huge difference because he’s been on that side of the infield a number of times. Will has worked out at first base in early work, throughout periodic times during the year, he’s a good athlete, and we feel he shouldn’t be a fish out of water.”
It’s a challenge Middlebrooks welcomes.
“If we go against a National League team with the double-switches and everything, who knows if I’m going to have to play there,” he said. “So it’s a good time to feel it out and get used to it.”
Middlebrooks has worked out at first base, but not in the last couple of weeks, he said.
“It’s not too hard, I don’t think,” he said. “The ball in between me and the pitcher and second base is the one I have to get the feel for, and the ball is kind of curved the opposite way as third base, but it’s glove side so you don’t have to go backhand as much. We’ll see. I’m not too worried about it. I’m not going to overthink it.”
Getting to know his own range at a new position could take time.
“That’s probably the biggest thing, is knowing where the cutoff is, to be able to still get back to the bag,” Farrell said. “That’s the one thing Mike Napoli has really become comfortable with and got to that point towards the latter part of spring training, knowing the range of the guy at second base, but really the responsibility of getting back to the bag, that’s probably the biggest thing.”
For Middlebrooks, though, that’s the most difficult aspect of the position.
“Underhand toss,” he said. “I was more worried about knowing how to hold a guy on at first. That was like my biggest [concern], which way do my feet go? Whatever, it seems pretty easy. I’m just going to play it how I thought it was played, so we’ll see.”
The move could also give the Red Sox some things to think about this offseason. Napoli is signed just through this season.
Farrell said the new lineup is not meant to minimize the importance of the games. The Red Sox know the importance of maintaining the best record in the AL, assuring themselves of home field advantage through the postseason.
“We’re not downplaying the importance of maintaining home field advantage. We have the ability to control our own destiny in that,” he said. “So we’re setting out as we have for the first 155 games of the season, and that’s to win tonight. We do have a number of things that we have to balance in this and that’s some individual things we’re trying to manage with some guys. But I think it’s pretty clear in the minds of all here that maintaining the best record would be key.”
The Sox have two off days this week and then four days between the end of the regular season and their first postseason game. They don’t have any players who are in need of down time – except possibly David Ortiz, Shane Victorino, and Dustin Pedroia, who has appeared in 154 of the first 155 games. But the scheduled off days may take care of that.
“That will take place but again there are a couple of situations,” Farrell said. “Pedey, for one, today that’s been in the works for quite a while. I think he’s played 154 of these games. Nap is another one to get him off his feet for a day. So that’s why we’ve got Middlebrooks at first tonight. Which, there’s a couple of other factors that go into that. He’s had some success against Buehrle [6-for-13] then maybe the potential situation in the postseason, if we pinch run for Nap, does he go over to first? So there’s a couple of things that go into him being at frist base here tonight.”
Farrell said a day off had been planned for some time for Pedroia. But, it had not been negotiated.
“No, because there was a little argument earlier today,” Farrell said. “But his biggest thing is he doesn’t know what to do. It may end up with him being back on the field because we want to get him the heck out of the dugout.”
* Asked how the Sox will use the four days off before the playoffs, Farrell replied:
“We’ve got a rough draft with what might be entailed each of those four days. Monday might be a complete off day. But the following three days, there’s going to be varying intensity. Wednesday, a number of guys will get on the mound and face some hitters live. Can’t say it’ll be a full blown intrasquad type game but there’ll be some more game-speed action that day.”
In past years with similar situations, other teams have called upon college teams for scrimmages. The Tigers flew to Florida to play their instructional league team.
“I’ve gotten some information,” Farrell said. “ Know they’ve done a couple different things. Local college, instructional league team, what is the benefit. It’s hard to replicate game action. We know that.”
It’s a dilemma Farrell welcomes.
“I’d rather have days off than not,” he said.
* The starting pitcher for Wednesday at Colorado is still listed as TBA. But John Lackey is likely to work an inning out of the bullpen on Tuesday, with Jake Peavy starting.
* Jacoby Ellsbury, who has been sidelined since Sept. 6 with a fractured navicular bone in his right foot, continued his rehab, progressing in his baseball activities Saturday. The Sox are hopeful he will return to the lineup on the road trip, but it will likely not be before the final series in Baltimore next weekend. Ellsbury is expected to see a specialist at the Steadman Clinic in Colorado when the Sox travel to play the Rockies on Tuesday and Wednesday.