BOSTON -- Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who has been on the disabled list since May 24 because of a lower back strain, is scheduled to continue his rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket tonight. But it may last longer than that.
Middlebrooks is eligible to be activated Saturday. The Red Sox, though, would like to use this time to not only make sure he is healthy, but also more productive than he had been for most of the season.
Middlebrooks was hitting just .201, with a .234 on-base percentage and .408 slugging percentage in 46 games before he was hurt. Those numbers are well off the marks he posted last season -- .288/.325/.509 in 75 games.
Manager John Farrell addressed the situation with Middlebrooks before the third baseman went on his rehab assignment.
“This was not only a chance to make sure that the health issue is, one, behind him, which everything points to that being the case, [and] two, he’ll get his timing back, but also [to] use this as an opportunity to get a little momentum going before he comes back,” Farrell said he told Middlebrooks. “We’re hopeful that that is sooner rather than later. Saturday’s still the day in which he’s eligible to be … activated. It could very well be Saturday. It could be shortly thereafter. I think the most important [thing] is our need for right-handed bats in this lineup to balance out our left side of the plate. He’s a vital part of that, and want to be sure he’s got some momentum coming back to us with.”
Farrell said the decision of when to bring Middlebrooks back would not be made based strictly on the numbers he posts in his rehab games.
“This isn’t going to be based on batting average,” Farrell said. “I think it’s more important that as he was showing more consistency before the injury the ability to drive the ball into right-center field … as we talked many times over, that’s when he’s at his best. And just to take his normal, natural approach and repeat it. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Farrell said Middlebrooks received the news relatively well.
“Understanding, but like any player, I think they’re anxious to get back here,” Farrell said. “And the one thing I want to be careful of is that we just don’t pin ourselves to a calendar date or X number of at-bats and say ‘Okay, I’m ready.’ He tell us when he’s ready by his actions.”
Farrell said he saw improvements in Middlebrooks’ plate approach before the injury.
“More consistency, and I think a lot of that just has to do with staying in the strike zone a little bit more regular than [he had been doing earlier]," Farrell said. "I think early on he expanded the zone a little bit more than maybe he had otherwise done. And as he settled into that strike zone, [he was able to take advantage of his] tremendous power [and] good bat speed. But we know when he sees the ball deep into the strike zone and he’s driving the ball to right field, that’s when he’s at his best. And that was starting to happen.
“If Will goes down and is just being Will Middlebrooks, he’ll get his way back here because that’s the type of player he is. And we just want to be sure he’s got some momentum coming to us.”
Jose Iglesias has been playing third base in Middlebrooks absence. Iglesias had played just one game at third base -- on May 21 for Pawtucket -- before he was called up and pressed into duty at the position for the major-league team. Despite his lack of familiarity with the position, he has not made an error in 25 chances. He is batting .431 with a .452 OBP and .586 SLG in 17 major-league games this season.
Iglesias’ performance, however, has nothing to do with the team’s plans for Middlebrooks, Farrell said.
“I wouldn’t say this is predicated just on what Jose’s doing because, bottom line, as I mentioned to Will, what’s best for Will is best for us, and that’s to get him to where he’s swinging the bat good, he’s feeling confident about himself,” Farrell said. “He’s our third baseman. And he will come back to us in that frame of mind and that ability to swing the bat, we’re going to be a better team because of that.”
Farrell said he has not seen an unwillingness on Middlebrooks’ part to make adjustments, as some young players who experienced initial success in the major leagues can tend to do.
“I can’t say he’s been unwilling, no,” Farrell said. “I wouldn’t say that I think he’s learning as he goes. Adjustments are not sometimes easily made because you come to the big leagues in a certain way you’ve had success. And you may be reluctant to make those adjustments because you haven’t lived it. The experience is invaluable and the game inside the lines is the greatest teacher we have. And you can’t replace plays and at-bats at this level. He believes in his abilities and that’s what you want first and foremost. I can’t say he’s been stubborn at all.”