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.''

Johnson beats Mariners 6-0 for Red Sox' 6th straight win

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Johnson beats Mariners 6-0 for Red Sox' 6th straight win

BOSTON - Brian Johnson pitched a five-hitter in his first big league appearance at Fenway Park, and the Boston Red Sox stretched their winning streak to a season-high six games with a 6-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.

Brought up from Triple-A Pawtucket, Johnson (2-0) gave up five singles, struck out eight and walked none. The 26-year-old left-hander's only previous big league starts were at Houston on July 21, 2015, and at Toronto on April 18 this year.

Johnson became the first Red Sox pitcher to throw a shutout in his first Fenway start since Pedro Martinez on April 11, 1998. In Johnson's first start in Fenway - his fourth as a professional - he sustained a season-ending facial fracture when he hit by a line drive while pitching for Class A Lowell in 2012.

Johnson was helped by a semi-leaping catch by center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. at the wall in the sixth, Bradley's diving grab of Nelson Cruz's sinking liner in the ninth and Bradley's game-ending running catch of Kyle Seager's drive.

Xander Bogaerts' RBI single triggered a three-run first inning and Bradley hit a two-run homer in the sixth

Shut out for the second straight day, Seattle has lost seven of eight.

Rob Whalen (0-1) gave up five runs and seven hits over 5 1/3 innings in his Mariners' debut, his first big league start since Aug. 23 for Atlanta. He is Seattle's 12th starting pitcher, the most in the major leagues.

Andrew Benintendi and Sandy Leon also had RBI singles in the first, when the Red Sox had two batters hit by pitches, two walks and two runners thrown out on the bases - Dustin Pedroia at third for the first out and Hanley Ramirez at the plate for the last.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Mariners: RHPs Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez, both on the DL with right shoulder inflammation, threw bullpen sessions. Hernandez said he "felt really good."... LHP James Paxton (strained forearm) is set to come off the DL and pitch at home Wednesday.

Red Sox: Pedroia was back at second base after getting Friday off to rest his sore left knee and not play on a wet field. He was hit by a pitch on the right forearm his first time up and went 1 for 3. ... 3B Pablo Sandoval, on the DL with a sprained right knee, was expected to play nine innings Saturday night in a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket. Manager John Farrell didn't rule out that he could be activated next week.

UP NEXT

Mariners: RHP Christian Bergman (1-2, 6.30 ERA) gave up 10 runs and 14 hits over four innings in a 10-1 loss Tuesday at Washington.

Red Sox: RHP Rick Porcello (3-4, 4.35) has gone at least six innings in eight of nine starts.

How dominant has Craig Kimbrel been? The numbers are eye popping

How dominant has Craig Kimbrel been? The numbers are eye popping

Remember that infield hit by Jonathan Villar of the Brewers off Craig Kimbrel on May 11 in Milwaukee?

Don't worry, nobody does. That's the last hit off the Red Sox closer. That's right. One hit this month.

How dominant has Kimbrel been? Going into Saturday, right-handed hitters don't have a hit off him in their past 39 at-bats. Opponents are hitting .083 against him. Move the decimal point and 0.83 happens to be his season ERA, too, to go with 13 saves. 

Here's more via @SoxNotes:

Kimbrel, 28, has been one of baseball's best closers for years with the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres. His first year in Boston last season was solid with 31 saves and a 3.40 ERA, but his walks climbed (30 total and 5.1 per 9 innings, the second-highest totals of his career). He also struggled in non-save situations.

There's been no struggling lately. The last run Kimbrel gave up was a home run by Kendrys Morales of the Blue Jays in the ninth inning on April 20 in Toronto that tied the score at 1 in a game won by the Red Sox 4-1 in 10. Kimbrel got the win and his only blown save of the season.

His three-out save Friday night was his first outing without a strikeout since a one-out save April 23. That followed his four-strikeout inning Thursday night.