Middlebrooks stays hot in loss to Yanks

Middlebrooks stays hot in loss to Yanks
August 19, 2013, 12:45 pm
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BOSTON -- Will Middlebrooks didn't think his fourth-inning fly ball had enough to leave the yard on Sunday night, but it sailed into the Red Sox bullpen at Fenway Park, one of the deepest parts of the field.

When things are going your way, they really go your way, it seems.

Since being recalled by the Red Sox on Aug. 10, Middlebrooks has been one of the team's hottest hitters. He is 12-for-26 (a .462 average) and has hit safely in all eight games during that stretch.

He was 2-for-3 with a double to go along with his homer in Boston's 9-6 loss to the Yankees on Sunday night. His opposite-field shot came off of lefty starter CC Sabathia.

"I figured he'd try to come in hard," Middlebrooks said. "[I took] the first heater. He probably thought I was looking offspeed again. I just sat on a heater and got it."

Part of Middlebrooks' recent tear has to do with his health; earlier this season, he dealt with lingering back issues that landed him on the disabled list in May and June. But he also explained that he has made adjustments to the mechanics of his swing that should allow him to be more consistent over time.

Sometime around the beginning of August, Middlebrooks changed his once-open stance to be more square. Though it took him a few games to get comfortable in the box without using his normal pre-swing timing mechanism of closing off his stance as a pitch was made, the changes are starting to feel more natural.

"I'm just trying to keep it more square in the middle of the field," Middlebrooks said, "so that way I can hit every pitch."

Middlebrooks' bat could be a boon to the Red Sox lineup, which has struggled particularly against lefty starting pitchers recently. Going into Sunday night's matchup with Sabathia, the Red Sox were 2-6 in their last eight games started by lefties, and they had lost to southpaws like Tampa Bay's David Price and Matt Moore, Houston's Brett Olberholtzer, Kansas City's Bruce Chen and Toronto's Mark Buerhle.

Though statistically one of the best offenses in baseball, the Red Sox are firmly in the middle of the pack over the course of this season when it comes to facing lefites. Their average against lefties (.252) is 13th in MLB, while they are slugging .391,  15th in baseball.

Another righthanded bat capable of producing some power, Middlebrooks should help boost those numbers. Still, he says, there hasn't been any extra focus placed on improving against lefties.

"Us as players, we don't think 'Oh we're struggling against lefties,' " Middlebrooks said. "We're thinking, 'Oh we need to score more runs, get on base more.' Us as players, we don't really break it down like that. We don't say 'Oh, we need to work on hitting lefites or hitting righties.' We just want to get hits regardless -- if a guy's throwing with his feet out there, you know? We're just trying to lock it in as a team, have good at-bats and get into advantage counts."

Middlebrooks has been a welcome addition for the Red Sox who have struggled to get offensive production from third base in recent months. Jose Iglesias struggled at the plate for weeks before trading him to Detroit, and platooning third basemen Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder did little to bolster the lineup. Even after Middlebrooks' recent surge, the Sox still rank 19th in OPS at the position (.678) and 25th in on-base average (.290).

Red Sox manager John Farrell has noticed an improvement in approach from his young third baseman, and he continued to be encouraged following his performance in Sunday night's loss.

“He came back to us more squared up in his stance and that’s allowed him to keep the bat through the strike zone with more plate coverage away,” Farrell said. “He’s more, I think, relaxed. He looks at ease in the box, much different than when he got sent out. He’s come back to us feeling pretty good about himself in the batter’s box.”

And with good reason.