PAWTUCKET –Will Middlebrooks won’t publicly fault the Red Sox’ decision to sign Stephen Drew – a move that has cast a rather large shadow over his future with the club.
“We had a need as a team and as an organization. (Drew’s) one of the best shortstops in the game so you can’t fault them for that,” said Middlebrooks Friday just before word came that Pawtucket’s game would be postponed due to rain. He was slated to serve as Pawtucket’s designated hitter and receive three or four at-bats. Both of those variables will remain unchanged for the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader at McCoy Stadium against Charlotte.
The moment Boston opened its arms and wallet for Drew, it set off a chain reaction that saw Xander Bogaerts shuffle to third base. Middlebrooks, who has been sidelined since May 17 with a fractured right index finger, has seemingly become the odd man out. And to compound matters, Brock Holt has made it next to impossible to take his red-hot bat out of Boston’s struggling lineup.
Given all these moving parts, it won’t come as a surprise if Middlebrooks approaches the full duration of the 20-day rehab period that is granted to position players. Keep in mind also that this marks his second rehab stint with the PawSox this season after getting sidelined with a strained calf during the season’s first week. Middlebrooks, thought to be a full-time contributor for Boston when the season started, has been limited to just 21 games for the major league team.
What Middlebrooks needs now more than anything is the simple luxury of seeing pitches.
“I haven’t seen a whole lot of pitching this year. I need to get just comfortable and get in a rhythm here – defensively, offensively, just baseball in general. That’s my goal right now. There’s no timetable set. I’ve got to get healthy and get in a rhythm,” Middlebrooks pointed out. “I’ve missed a lot over the past two years. I’m just trying to string together consecutive games and at-bats. Try to get to where I feel better out there.
“Yeah, it’s been a long two years,” Middlebrooks continued, referencing the injuries and struggles that put a damper on his sophomore year in the majors following a strong rookie debut in 2012, which ended prematurely after getting hit in the hand with a pitch.
“I’ve been lucky enough and blessed with great teammates and I’ve had a lot of help to get through it all. I know I’ve said this before, but hopefully this is it. And I can move forward from here and string together some consistent days on the field.”
Standing outside his locker, Middlebooks showed a group of reporters his thumb. He says that the swelling has gone down dramatically the past few weeks, though there’s an important hurdle that’s yet to be crossed.
“I’m just working on flexibility and getting it straightened out and everything. Luckily, it’s my top hand so it’s not squished in there and I can just leave it off the bat if I need to,” Middlebrooks pointed out. “Throwing is going to be my biggest test. I’ve thrown in the past couple days. It’s pretty sore, but that’s what you’d expect. It’s only been three weeks. Yeah. I think throwing is the worst. I don’t have to have it on the bat. Just not a whole lot of force on it.”
The time in Pawtucket will also enable Middlebrooks to get a feel for a new piece of equipment – a pair of prescription Oakley glasses that he now relies on to correct his vision.
“I tried the contact lenses in spring training and they were tough for me to hit in. They dry out a lot. The dirt and everything. It’s hard to play baseball in contacts. You get dirt in them. You can’t just wipe it out – it’s contacts. You have to get in there with eye drops or whatever. I’m going to try them out. It’s something different. I’ve tried them a couple of times in batting practice and it’s definitely weird. It’s going to be a process for me,” he said.
Middlebrooks says that his vision checks out slightly less than 20/20. He’s also consulted Drew, who has also gone to the sports eyewear route since rejoining the Sox.
“It’s an on-the-field thing. It’s more at nighttime for me, when I need them the most. In day games, I can see the ball fine. But at night, it can get a little blurry like a little halo around the ball. It’s just something I’m trying to fix,” Middlebrooks said. “It’s a stigmatism, but nothing too crazy. I still have a little less than 20/20 vision, but in baseball you need better than that. Especially playing third base, the ball gets on you quick. I’m just trying to get it a little better.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03
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