Middlebrooks eager to play after last season's injury

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Middlebrooks eager to play after last season's injury

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Will Middlebrooks' rookie season in the big leagues was one he won't forget.

It began well, with Middlebrooks taking over at third base from Kevin Youkilis, hitting .288 while adding 15 homers and 54 RBI. Then, just as it was getting going, Middlebrooks was struck on the hand by a pitch in early August and missed almost the final two months of 2012.

The team's last-place finish was bad enough, but being sidelined with an injury made it all the more frustrating.

Jokingly pronouncing himself "105 percent" healthy, Middlebrooks wants to put last season -- the injury and the 93 losses -- behind him.

"Everyone who was a part of it is (eager),'' he said, "and I had to sit back and just watch, so I feel like I'm even more (eager) at this point, ready to go. Sitting there in a cast, I couldn't hit, I couldn't throw. I don't know if that made it worse, but in my own mind, it did."

Middlebrooks spent the winter rehabbing from the broken hand, making his off-season a bit different than usual.

"The first month, I was really finishing up my rehab," said Middlebrooks. "But I took BP in New York (in the final series of the season); that was my goal at the end of the year, just so I could go into the off-season knowing I was ready to go, I can get my lifts in, have everything normal and and come to spring training ready to go."

He didn't start swinging until the week before Christmas.

"Everyone who's had a similar injury said 'You're going to go through an awkward stage where you don't really trust it,' " he said. "I'll give it a couple of weeks to get past that and get going."

Middlebrooks can remember a year ago at this time, when he felt a bit overwhelmed being in big league camp.

"Last year," said Middlebrooks, "I was stuck in the corner in here, wondering how long I'd be up here, kind of planning my way back down. Now, I have a job. Obviously, I come in with the mindset of trying to win that job. But it's completely different."

He knows he'll have be more consistent this season to avoid going backward. He played long enough for teams to put together a scouting report on him and make adjustments.

"The last month (of last season)," he said, "things completely changed. Pitchers' approach changed with me. It's just a cat-and-mouse game and you have to change along with it."

A hungry ballplayer: Ex-Sox prospect Moncada once ate 85 Twinkies a week

A hungry ballplayer: Ex-Sox prospect Moncada once ate 85 Twinkies a week

This isn’t your average young and hungry player on the brink of the big leagues.

Yoan Moncada, the ex-Red Sox prospect who was one of the principal pieces in the trade for Chris Sale, ate 85 Twinkies in a week, his agent told ESPN The Magazine

David Hastings, Moncada's agent, clarified to CSNNE that this was a one-time thing when Moncada first arrived in the U.S. Moncada had never had Twinkies before, Hastings said, so he was like "a kid in a candy store."

He's still in great shape. Moncada had a huge spring training with the White Sox after a disappointing major-league debut with Boston in September. 

The 21-year-old third baseman has been optioned out of big-league camp, so he’s slated to start the year in Triple-A. But he hit .317 with a .391 on-base percentage and .683 slugging percentage and 3 home runs in 41 at-bats — some of the best numbers anywhere.

Moncada took a $31.5 million signing bonus from the Red Sox, money that the Sox turned into Sale. Moncada, meanwhile, didn’t exactly invest every cent.

Twinkies weren’t his only indulgence. 

More from the story: 

Moncada had money to spend on drones, video games, toys and clothes. He sometimes spent $1,500 or more during nights out, David says. After he purchased the second $200,000 car, Josefa [Hastings, David’s wife] tried to talk some sense into him.

Hastings reinforced to CSNNE that the message to Moncada was to invest in things that appreciate in value.

Drellich: Bogaerts should start season in second half of lineup

Drellich: Bogaerts should start season in second half of lineup

The Red Sox need to let their lineup sort itself out a bit, and really, need to see how one core player in particular fares: Xander Bogaerts. 
 
Until then, Red Sox manager John Farrell should try to alternate right- and left-handed hitters as much as possible against right-handed pitching
 
If Thursday’s Grapefruit League lineup indeed winds up as a preview for the regular season, Farrell’s on the right track.
 
1. Dustin Pedroia 2B
2. Andrew Benintendi LF
3. Mookie Betts RF
4. Hanley Ramirez DH
5. Mitch Moreland 1B
6. Xander Bogaerts SS
7. Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
8. Pablo Sandoval 3B
9. Blake Swihart C
 
Sandy Leon or Christian Vazquez should be at catcher normally, rather than Swihart. (If Leon shows he can in fact hit again, the Sox could also decide to put Jackie Bradley Jr. in the nine-hole.)
 
"Maybe a first look at our lineup," manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida. "I'm not saying this is Opening Day, but this is potential for one on Opening Day. And just to get everybody back in the rhythm. We've kind of fragmented because of the WBC and because of travel and bouncing around the state. To get our camp finally together, I think we're all looking forward to these last remaining games."
 
Betts is the best all-around producer the Red Sox have. He should be in the three-hole, despite chatter than Andrew Benintendi might be a fit.
 
But Bogaerts’ success will determine a lot of the flexibility available to Farrell. (Yes, everybody has to be healthy for the above statement to be true. And remember, lineups are important, but probably not as important as we’ve all been raised to believe). 

If Bogaerts plays like he did in the first half, when he batted .329 en route to an All-Star appearance, he could easily slide into the three-hole, and push Betts into the second or fourth spot. Or even leadoff.
 
If Bogaerts is the .253 hitter he was after the All-Star break, well, the second half of the lineup is where he belongs. 
 
Bogaerts is, ultimately, better than he showed as both he and the season wore down. But let him establish himself in a groove before you start loading up the top of the lineup with right-handed hitters, thereby giving opposing managers a clear path for righty relievers.
 
(The Red Sox could pinch hit Chris Young at any time, but you’re usually not taking out one of your best players just for a platoon advantage.)
 
And from another perspective, you almost need Bogaerts in the second half of the lineup. Because what else is there?
 
Say the Sox load all four right-handed hitters at the top.
 
1. Pedroia
2. Bogaerts
3. Betts
4. Ramirez 
 
That’s awesome. Then what? Benintendi and cross your fingers? Benintendi seems as sure a thing as any sophomore — well, technically a rookie — can be. But still.
 
This is where Moreland and Sandoval represent other X-factors. All spring, there’s been talk of how Fenway Park and a use-all-fields approach will benefit Moreland. That may be so — but to what extent? How much better can he reasonably be? The Sox are internally encouraged.
 
As it stands now, however, there’s no obvious choice to protect Ramirez, considering Moreland is coming off a season where he had a .293 on-base percentage against righties.
 
And with Sandoval, whether he’s anything more than a wet napkin vs. left-handed pitching is to be seen. There’s reason to believe he can handle right-handed pitchers at least adequately, so he'll get the start — but he could be the first guy pinch hit for nightly.