DETROIT -- For the second straight game and fifth time in the last nine, Will Middlebrooks found himself to be the odd man out in the rotation on the left side of the Red Sox infield.
Jose Iglesias was at third and Stephen Drew at shortstop as the Red Sox played the third game of their four-game series with the Detroit Tigers.
It was hard to argue with the logic behind the move. Drew was coming off a three-hit game on Friday night while Iglesias also had a three-hit night.
Moreover, Iglesias had reached base safely in 24 straight games, the second-longest such active streak in the big leagues. And Iglesias was hitting a torrid .431 for the season, tops for all major leaguers with 75 or more plate appearances.
Middlebrooks, meanwhile, was hitting just .192 for the season. Since being recalled from Pawtucket following a DL stint, Middlebrooks was at .138 (4-for-29).
"All I can do is control how hard I work and what I do to perform,'' said Middlebrooks. "That's something I don't see changing with myself.''
Last spring, Middlebrooks took over at third base when veteran Kevin Youkilis got hurt, then struggled upon his return. Now, it's Iglesias who's taking playing time away from the slumping Middlebrooks.
"Yeah, that's how the game is, man,'' said Middlebrooks, "and all I can do is bust my ass to get back to where I was. I'm frustrated. (Shoot), everybody would be frustrated -- not because (Iglesias) is playing well, but because I didn't perform and I didn't do my part.''
Middlebrooks has spoken to some veterans on the club who, like him, struggled early in their careers. They've advised Middlebrooks to be patient and retain confidence.
"They were like, 'We've been through it...today's not forever,' '' said Middlebrooks. "(and they suggested) keep working, keep your head down and work hard and things will turn around.''
If Middlebrooks doesn't start to hit -- and Iglesias continues on his torrid streak -- there remains the option that the Sox could send him to Pawtucket to get regular playing time and fight his way out of his slump in the minors.
"I can't worry about that,'' he said. "Like I said, I'm really trying to not to worry about things I can't control. All I can control is how hard I work every day and that's all I can worry about.''
"If there comes a point where we feel like he's not getting enough reps,'' said John Farrell, "then maybe (sending him down) comes into the discussion a little more. But that's not imminent right now.''
In the meantime, Middlebrooks tries to learn while he sits.
"I've really learned how to watch a baseball game,'' said Middlebrooks. "I started doing that last year (when he missed the final two months with a broken wrist). I really had to just play situations in my head as the game went along. You never know when someone's going to get hit by a pitch or take a bad hop or roll an ankle and you could be in there. And if that mental switch isn't on, you're not going to help your team at all.''
There have been times when Middlebrooks appears on the cusp of breaking out. He hit a three-run homer last Sunday in Baltimore -- but then followed up with an 0-for-7 skid in his next two games.
"The last 15-20 games, I felt like I have (shown signs),'' he said. "I've been getting myself in good counts, but I'll fly out, ground out or line out. It's part of the game. You can't control what happens when it leaves the bat. I know (it sounds like) a broken record, but I'm just going to keep working hard.
"That's all I can do.''
Farrell praised Middlebrooks for handling the reduced playing time "as best as possible. He realizes that Iggy has done an outstanding job. He feels that (he himself) is a good player. He's one of us. It's not like this a guy who's lost his job and he's out of favor by any means; he's an important part of us today and going forward. He's a talented young player who's got a half a year of really good production under his belt and it's been a little bit of a struggle for him this year.''