BOSTON -- Will Middlebrooks is close to a return.
That's coming from Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who spoke to Middlebrooks in his office on Saturday morning, along with the training staff.
The third baseman missed his fourth-straight game on Friday night with a hamstring injury, but has since taken ground balls and hit in the cage.
Valentine said, before the afternoon portion of Saturday's day-night double-header against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park, that the plan is for Middlebrooks to be 100 percent when they return from the All-Star break on Friday in Tampa Bay. He wouldn't rule out a pinch-hit appearance before this weekend's series is over.
"He hit for almost two innings in a game yesterday in the cage, and he felt nothing," said Valentine. "I'm always, with those pulled muscles, I always like to give them to a day after, if someone thinks that they feel fine.
"If he feels great today, I'm not sure. Some of the madness in not DL'ing him, was to have him ready coming out of the break, and not miss those five games on the other side of the break. But if he's perfect today, he could pinch-hit today, I think."