With Ellsbury, Middlebrooks, lineup nearly whole

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With Ellsbury, Middlebrooks, lineup nearly whole

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Since the start of the second half, the Red Sox have allowed themselves to dream of a lineup featuring a full complement of players.
Until Carl Crawford makes his season debut Monday, that won't happen.
But the Sox got closer to the goal Sunday with the return of Will Middlebrooks -- who had missed the final seven games of the first half with a hamstring pull -- and Jacoby Ellsbury, who missed most of the first 10 weeks with a subluxed shoulder.
Ellsbury picked up where he left off Saturday night -- when he smashed a run-scoring single and doubled -- and collected three hits in Sunday's 7-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Back in his customary leadoff spot, Ellsbury doubled in the second, singled and scored in the sixth and singled in the eighth, giving the Sox the kind of leadoff presence they've been missing in his absence.
"Ells is one of the best players in the game,'' said Bobby Valentine. "It looks like his rhythm is pretty good right now. He's taking those pitches down, hitting pitches up. It looks like he's in mid-season form.''
Indeed, it is midseason, with Ellsbury having been sidelined since the home opener, when he suffered a subluxation of the right shoulder. After a lengthy DL stint and time on a minor league rehab assignment, he's back and contributing.
Middlebrooks, meanwhile, missed the final seven games of the first half with a hamstring strain, only to return Friday, when the second half commenced.
He had a two-run homer Saturday, a reminder of his potential to impact the lineup, and Sunday, collected three hits in his first three plate appearances.
With the Sox trailing in the second, Middlebrooks singled to lead off a two-run second. In the fourth, he doubled and was stranded at second. Finally, he singled to score Adrian Gonzalez and Cody Ross in the fifth, completing his return to the lineup in this series.
"I feel comfortable,'' said Middlebrooks. "The last couple of days, I put together some good at-bats and started to get back in the groove. The first game back was tough then Saturday I had some good at-bats. I felt better Saturday.''
Having missed the final two series of the first half, Middlebrooks felt somewhat helpless after the Sox went 1-6 in the final seven games before the break.
Coming back and having an impact has been satisfying.
"Absolutely,'' he said. "We need to get some momentum going in the second half and I want to be able to get a couple of hits.''
Middlebrooks saw opposing teams start to throw more off-speed pitches against him and he was ready for them this weekend.
"I just had to make some adjustments,'' said Middlebrooks. "I'm sticking with my approach the entire at-bat and not just a few pitches.''

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Chris Sale brings with him to Boston some attitude. He also brings a measure of defiance and, perhaps, a little bit of crazy.

All of which the Red Sox starting staff just may need. And if Sale pitches as he has for much of the past five years, he'll probably be celebrated for it.

I still wonder how it will all play here, especially if he underachieves.

What would we do to him locally if he refused to pitch because he didn't like a certain kind of uniform variation the team was going with? What would we say if he not only refused to pitch, but took a knife to his teammates' uniforms and the team had to scrap the promotion? Sale did exactly that in Chicago last year, after which he threw his manager under the bus for not standing by his players and attacked the team for putting business ahead of winning.

All because he didn't want to wear an untucked jersey?

"(The White Sox throwback uniforms) are uncomfortable and unorthodox,'' said Sale at the time. "I didn't want to go out there and not be at the top of my game in every aspect that I need to be in. Not only that, but I didn't want anything to alter my mechanics. ... There's a lot of different things that went into it.''

Wearing a throwback jersey would alter his mechanics? Was that a joke? It's hard to imagine he would get away with that in Boston.

Ditto for his support of Adam LaRoche and his involvement of that goofy story last March.
 
LaRoche, you'll remember, retired when the White Sox had the nerve to tell him that his 14-year-old son could not spend as much time around the team as he had grown accustomed to. Sale responded by pitching a fit.

“We got bald-face lied to by someone we’re supposed to be able to trust,'' said Sale of team president Kenny Williams. ``You can’t come tell the players it was the coaches and then tell the coaches it was the players, and then come in and say something completely different. If we’re all here to win a championship, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen.”

On what planet does allowing a 14-year-old kid in a clubhouse have anything to do with winning a title? In what universe does a throwback jersey have anything to do with mechanics? If David Price had said things that stupid last year, he'd still be hearing about it. And it won't be any different for Sale.

Thankfully, Sale's defiance and feistiness extends to the mound. Sale isn't afraid to pitch inside and protect his teammates, leading the American League in hit batsmen each of the last two years. He doesn't back down and loves a fight. And while that makes him sound a little goofy off the field, it should play well on it.

In the meantime, the Sox better hope he likes those red alternate jerseys they wear on Fridays.

E-mail Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast appears daily on CSN.

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Chris Sale had been the subject of so many trade rumors for the past year that he admitted feeling somewhat like "the monkey in the middle.”

On Tuesday, the rumors became reality when Sale learned he was being shipped to the Red Sox in exchange for a package of four prospects.
    
It meant leaving the Chicago White Sox, the only organization he'd known after being drafted 13th overall by Chicago in 2010. Leaving, he said, is "bittersweet.''
     
Now, he can finally move forward.
     
"Just to have the whole process out of the way and get back to some kind of normalcy will be nice,” said Sale Wednesday morning in a conference call with reporters.

Sale had been linked in trade talks to many clubs, most notably the Washington Nationals, who seemed poised to obtain him as recently as Monday night.

Instead, Sale has changed his Sox from White to Red.

"I'm excited,” he said. "You're talking about one of the greatest franchises ever. I'm excited as anybody. I don't know how you couldn't be. I've always loved going to Boston, pitching in Boston. (My wife and I) both really like the city and (Fenway Park) is a very special place.”
     
It helps that Sale lives in Naples, Fla., just 20 or so miles from Fort Myers, the Red Sox' spring training base. Sale played his college ball at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.
     
"Being able to stay in our house a couple of (more) months,” gushed Sale, “it couldn't have worked out better personally or professionally for us.”
     
Sale joins a rotation with two Cy Young Award winners (David Price and reigning winner Rick Porcello), a talented core of mostly younger position players and an improved bullpen.

"There's no reason not to be excited right now,” said Sale. "You look at the talent on this team as a whole... you can't ask for much more.”

Sale was in contact with Price Tuesday, who was the first Red Sox player to reach out. He also spoke with some mutual friends of Porcello.

That three-headed monster will carry the rotation, and the internal competition could lift them all to new heights.
     
"The good thing in all of this,'' Sale said, "is that I can definitely see a competition (with) all of us pushing each others, trying to be better. No matter who's pitching on a (given) night, we have as good or better chance the next night. That relieves some of the pressure that might build on some guys (who feel the need to carry the team every start).”

But Sale isn't the least bit interested in being known as the ace of the talented trio.

"I don’t think that matters,” he said. "When you have a group of guys who come together and fight for the same purpose, nothing else really matters. We play for a trophy, not a tag.”

Sale predicted he would be able to transition from Chicago to Boston without much effort, and didn't seem overwhelmed by moving to a market where media coverage and fan interest will result in more scrutiny.

"It's fine, it's a part of it, it's reality,” he said. "I'm not a big media guy. I'm not on Twitter. I'm really focused on the in-between-the-lines stuff. That's what I love, playing the game of baseball. Everything else will shake out.”

After playing before small crowds and in the shadow of the  Cubs in Chicago, Sale is ready to pitch before sellout crowds at Fenway.

"I'm a firm believer that energy can be created in ballparks,” he said. "I don't think there’s any question about it. When you have a packed house and everyone's on their feet in the eighth inning, that gives every player a jolt.”