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Red Sox notes: On the Will Middlebrooks/Jose Iglesias dynamic; no word on Clay Buchholz; resting Shane Victorino

06.09.13 at 12:20 pm ET
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Jose Iglesias leads the majors with a .443 average. (AP)

It’s looking less and less like a fluke. Jose Iglesias is not merely collecting a bunch of well-located infield singles. The 23-year-old, in his stint as the everyday fill-in for Will Middlebrooks at third base, has demonstrated a form of plate appearances that has rarely if ever characterized his performance at any level. He’s laying off breaking balls not only in the dirt but even just out of the strike zone, thus earning fastballs that he’s lining to all fields. The result has been eye-opening, as Iglesias tops all big leaguers (min. 50 plate appearances) with a .443 average, including a .429 mark (with three doubles and a homer) during a current career-long 12-game hitting streak. He’s even working walks, having a .494 on-base percentage.

“He’s lengthened our lineup out, and his on-base ability has been probably better than expected, and he’s doing an excellent job at it. What we’re seeing is more consistent at-bats where he’s controlling the count, putting himself in hitters counts more regularly, and of late, he’s starting to generate a lot of respect by the opposition,” said manager John Farrell. “They’re pitching him a little bit more careful, and he’s doing a good job of not expanding the strike zone.”

Iglesias has made a considerable leap in his discipline. Entering the year, he averaged 3.43 pitches per plate appearance in 83 big league plate appearances. This year, he’s averaging 3.92 pitches per plate appearance — above league average. Of his six walks, five have come in the last four games, further demonstration of the fact that, to this point, he’s adjusting well to the way in which big league opponents are adapting to him.

“To me, that’s on-the-job training. That’s situational. Certainly, we have a high number of guys that have a track record of that, so he’s got a tangible example that plays out in front of him as a reminder,” said Farrell. “You see the recent number of walks that have been far more than what he’s experienced in the past. That’s a combination of hitting for an average and not expanding the strike zone.”

Will Middlebrooks is nearing a return to the big leagues. Farrell suggested that there isn’t a set date for his return from a rehab assignment but that it will occur “soon.” So, is there any relationship between Iglesias’ performance and the duration of Middlebrooks’ stay in Triple-A?

“No, and that was outlined at the outset. We feel what’s best for Will is best for us, and that’s to get him not only with the health things behind him, which everything points to that being the case right now, that there’s no more back issue, and for [him] to get on a little bit on a roll to come back to us,” said Farrell. “Will’s our third baseman. We’ve said that. But yet at the same time, Jose is doing an excellent job, and once Will’s returned and the roster decision is made, if the scenario is that Jose is our utility guy, we’ve got to be sure that we rotate him through there to keep him in the mix.”

Farrell said last week that if Iglesias remains in the big leagues in a utility role after Middlebrooks’ return — something that almost certainly would come at the expense of Pedro Ciriaco‘s time in the big leagues — he would need to play a minimum of two games per week. But, with his performance, Iglesias also has a chance to carve out a role beyond that minimum.

“We have to stay flexible,” said Farrell. “That’s what internal competition is about. It drives everyone to be better. You don’t want to stunt that. You don’t want to take away from that or get in the way of it, really.”

RED SOX NOTES

– Right-hander Clay Buchholz woke up with soreness in his trapezius muscle after leaving in the seventh inning of Saturday’s game due to the condition. The Sox were evaluating him on Sunday morning, with no updates available as of Farrell’s pre-game session with the media.

Shane Victorino, who was activated from the DL for Saturday’s night game, has a scheduled day off on Sunday. Farrell said that Victorino would continue to get regular rest, though he suggested the schedule wouldn’t be rigid, instead basing the decision about when to sit him on how the outfielder feels after individual games.

– Farrell said that while a sore groin appeared to be affected the delivery of Sunday starter Ryan Dempster earlier in the season, the condition — while not completely resolved — has subsided to the point where he the right-hander once again is pitching with the same mechanics that yielded early season success. He’s pitched seven innings in each of his last two starts entering Sunday.

Read More: Clay Buchholz, jose iglesias, Shane Victorino, Will Middlebrooks
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