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Will Middlebrooks ditched contacts, but difference-making contact keeps coming 05.01.14 at 12:18 am ET
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There is some danger in overreacting to what Will Middlebrooks has done in the infant stages of the season. After all, through a comparable number of at-bats last year, he looked like a lineup anchor thanks in no small part to a three-homer game in the sixth contest of the season. It was difficult at that stage of the year to imagine the struggles that awaited him.

So there’s the disclaimer. Still.

The early impressions left by Middlebrooks, both in spring training, at the start of this season and then in the days since his return from the disabled list, have been singularly positive. The uncertainty and anxiety that seemed to accompany him to the batter’s box last year — and, consequently, off the field at times — seems to have yielded to a sense of calm and self-possession, and with it, the possibility of a player capable of doing damage to opposing pitchers.

Through eight games — four before he landed on the DL with a calf strain, four since — Middlebrooks is hitting .259 with a .375 OBP and .593 slugging mark. The OBP is a bit deceiving, as it reflects the fact that he’s been hit by three pitches and that one of his two walks was intentional. The slugging percentage, on the other hand, accurately reflects the fact that when he’s made contact, he’s been hitting the snot out of the ball, with five of his seven hits going for extra bases (and two clearing the fence).

In the very, very brief sample of 32 plate appearances, his strikeout rate is down slightly (22 percent, down from 26 percent a year ago), he’s hitting everything in the air (giving his considerable power a chance to play), he’s chasing fewer pitches outside of the strike zone (according to Fangraphs, he’s swinging at 23.5 percent of pitches that aren’t in the zone, down from a 30.4 percent chase rate last year) and he’s making contact with balls that are in the strike zone (again according to Fangraphs, he’s making contact with 90.5 percent of pitches he swings at that are in the strike zone, up from 84.0 percent last year).

What do all those numbers suggest? Middlebrooks is swinging at better pitches to drive, and when he does, in the initial stages of this year, he’s driving them more frequently. The data is backed by the visual impression. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Will Middlebrooks,
Craig Breslow on M&M: ‘Biggest goal is getting healthy’ 04.28.14 at 2:08 pm ET
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Red Sox pitcher Craig Breslow joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to talk about the Red Sox getting back to .500, Clay Buchholz‘€™s “dead arm”, the differences between the bullpen in 2013 and 2014 and Michael Pineda‘€™s pine tar incident last week. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

(Breslow’s charity — the Strike 3 Foundation — will be holding their annual charity event, “Sip Happens,” May 19 at the Boston Children’s Museum to benefit the fight against pediatric cancer.  To purchase tickets, or more information, click here.)

The Red Sox haven’€™t gotten off to the hot start they had in 2013, instead staying below .500 for the majority of the season, holding a record of 12-14. Breslow pointed out that while getting over that mark is one of the priorities, the biggest priority at this point is getting all the starters on the field.

“I think different teams probably have different goals at this point, and for us I think the biggest goal is getting healthy. … Obviously we’€™ve suffered through some early season injuries,” Breslow said. “We’€™re now just getting back some key players. Obviously, (it’s) great to get (Shane) Victorino back, (Will) Middlebrooks back. And I think just being able to run out the lineup that we had envisioned taking the field with on opening day consistently is really our first step towards, kind of, identifying who we are and who we will be as a team.”

Buchholz, who has struggled in 2014 with a 1-2 record and a 6.66 ERA, is thought, by many, to have “dead arm.” Breslow contends that he too may be struggling through the same thing.

“There are probably a lot of parallels between Clay, and I just in terms of a heavy workload, battling some shoulder issues last season, wanting to make sure that we were completely healthy going into this season, picking up a throwing program a little bit later,” Breslow said. “I kind of felt like I ran out of time towards the end of spring training and needed a little bit longer to get myself in game shape.”

Added Breslow: “This whole dead arm phenomenon is really a bizarre thing because you don’€™t feel hurt or unhealthy or weak, but when you go to throw a baseball, despite the fact that you feel you’€™re putting the same effort into it, it’€™s just not coming out as hard.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Red Sox, Clay Buchholz, Craig Breslow, Michael Pineda
Brock Holt optioned back to Triple-A 04.24.14 at 11:59 pm ET
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After the team’s ugliest loss of the season on Thursday, Red Sox manager John Farrell announced that the team had optioned Brock Holt back to Triple-A Pawtucket in advance of the team activating third basemen Will Middlebrooks on Friday.

Holt went 0-for-3 with a walk and had an error at third during Boston’s 14-5 loss to the Yankees on Thursday. The hitless night was Holt’s first since he was called up on April 18 to replace Ryan Roberts and fill the void left by Middlebrooks’ calf injury. In seven games with the Red Sox, Holt hit .348 with a .429 on-base percentage and knocked in four runs.

Before Thursday’s game, Farrell said that Holt gave the team “a jolt in the arm.”

“When he came to us, we hoped he would spark the bottom third of the order,” Farrell said. “He’s done exactly that. He’s been fine defensively at third base, he’s given us quality at-bats — even in situations where he’s made an out, he’s been working the count deep and he’s gotten on base at a high rate.”

Read More: Brock Holt, Will Middlebrooks,
Red Sox notebook: Boston comes closer to more stable lineup as Shane Victorino makes return at 6:36 pm ET
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As the Red Sox head into the rubber match of their series against the Yankees the team will take a step toward solidifying its lineup. In 23 games this season, including Thursday night’s contest, the Red Sox have had 21 different lineups as they dealt with injuries and an ongoing search for a player to take hold of the leadoff spot.

With the team finishing out the series against New York and getting on a plane to Toronto, though, some of its stability is returning.

Shane Victorino will return to the lineup Thursday night, making his regular-season debut after he suffered an injury to his right hamstring toward the end of spring training.

“This is something we’€™ve been waiting for for some time here,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “Shane’€™s return we feel like will help solidify our outfield defense particularly, and, in addition to that, the top of the order for us. It’€™s good to have him back in the lineup, there’€™s no doubt about it.”

Victorino, who will hit second in Thursday’€™s order, went 1-for-11 during a three-game rehab stint with Triple-A Pawtucket.

The Red Sox have spent the first month of the season without Victorino and the past three weeks without Will Middlebrooks.

“You deal with what you have in the moment and knowing that players are going to come back to you, that’€™s always a positive outlook,” Farrell said. “We don’€™t make excuses because guys have been injured or there’€™s been some performance that’€™s been a little less than. We’€™re setting out to compete and win every single night and sometimes that hasn’€™t always been the case.”

Farrell added that with Victorino back in the lineup, he hopes to keep Dustin Pedroia in the leadoff spot with Victorino hitting second.

“Hopefully with [Pedroia] and [Victorino] at the top of the order the on-base will be there at a higher, and at a more consistent rate,” Farrell said. “I think stability is what this team is in need of right now.”

OTHER RED SOX NOTES

— Middlebrooks has likely finished his own rehab assignment and will probably fly out to Toronto to join the team for its three-game series with the Blue Jays. Middlebrooks, who was placed on the disabled list after suffering a Grade 1 calf strain on April 5, joined Pawtucket on April 21. While the 25-year-old was hitless in 10 at-bats over three games with the PawSox, Farrell said Thursday that Middlebrooks€™ was swinging the bat better in his final appearance.

— Since joining the Red Sox on April 18, Brock Holt has accumulated a .400 average with a .458 on-base percentage while driving in four runs over the course of six games. The team called Holt up to the majors after Ryan Roberts struggled to fill the gap left by Middlebrooks’€™ calf injury.

“When he came to us, we hoped he would spark the bottom third of the order,” Farrell said. “He’€™s done exactly that. He’€™s been fine defensively at third base, he’€™s given us quality at-bats — even in situations where he’€™s made an out, he’€™s been working the count deep and he’€™s gotten on base at a high rate.

“He’€™s given us a jolt in the arm, and we’€™ll see where things go from there.”

Farrell added that the team is having an on-going discussion of what to do with Holt, who went 1-for-2 with two walks and an RBI during Wednesday’s 5-1 win over the Yankees, once Middlebrooks returns. The team will only need one utility player, and so either Holt or Jonathan Herrera would appear to be the odd-man out. Both have options remaining, though Herrera is considered the superior defensive shortstop, and Farrell said that his preference to get the most capable glove at that position remains unchanged.

— Farrell said on Thursday that Jonny Gomes and Grady Sizemore could potentially platoon in left field. Farrell added that Sizemore may also get playing time in center, so his playing time won’t necessarily be restricted to days in which right-handed pitchers are on the mound.

“With [Victorino's] return there’s still going to be some managing of that playing time there,” Farrell said. “I can’t say he’s solely going to be in left field, particularly in Fenway where we might see Grady in center and Jackie [Bradley Jr.] in right on any given day. We’ve got to remain open to not only who’s available to us, but where we’re playing — home or on the road.”

Read More: Brock Holt, Shane Victorino, Will Middlebrooks,
Red Sox minor league roundup: The bigger picture for Allen Webster; Will Middlebrooks faces heat; Jamie Callahan bounces back; A triples machine in Greenville at 11:41 am ET
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It would have been easy for the Red Sox to summon Allen Webster to the big leagues on Wednesday. They needed a pitcher capable of providing innings in case anything went off the rails with John Lackey, given that the team’s bullpen had been pushed to obscene (11 innings) lengths in the prior two days. Webster, whose day it was to start in Pawtucket, would have given the team the possibility of a significant workload if needed.

But the Sox resisted the temptation to do so, instead electing to bring up Alex Wilson for the day. The reason?

“Didn’t want to disrupt Webster’s starting rotation work there. We felt like a two-inning reliever is what we needed, which Alex has done,” Sox manager John Farrell told reporters. “Familiarity with the role. That’s why Alex is here.”

The Sox are mindful of what occurred a year ago, when Webster got off to a spectacular start in spring training and then April in Pawtucket, but started to see his dominant early performance get derailed once he started shuttling up and down between Pawtucket and the big leagues. He seemed to struggle with the transitions, lost confidence along the way and went from a pitcher who looked like he was on the cusp of being a big league-ready starter to one who looked lost.

And so, Webster remained in Pawtucket this time, under different circumstances than the ones that had the Sox looking for opportunities to bring him to the big leagues last year. He’s struggled through four starts, permitting more walks (12) than strikeouts (11) in 20 innings. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: allen webster, carlos asuaje, jamie callahan, Will Middlebrooks
Shane Victorino collects first hit of rehab assignment, Will Middlebrooks hitless in Pawtucket 04.21.14 at 9:13 pm ET
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Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino, in the second game of his rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket, had an infield single in four plate appearances while playing seven innings. He also popped out twice and grounded into a double play, making the 33-year-old 1-for-7 in his rehab assignment from a hamstring injury. Victorino is also slated to play in Pawtucket one more time on Tuesday before he is re-evaluated for possible activation during the forthcoming Red Sox-Yankees series.

Joining Victorino in Pawtucket on Monday was third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who played in his first rehab game on the 16th day of his stint on the DL due to a Grade 1 calf strain suffered on April 5. Middlebrooks went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts and lined out to right. All three of Middlebrooks’ plate appearances came against highly regarded Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman, a hard-throwing starter. Victorino’s first three plate appearances came against Stroman while his fourth (a pop-out) came against left-hander reliever Rob Rasmussen.

Read More: Shane Victorino, Will Middlebrooks,
Red Sox pregame notes: Red Sox prepared for quick turnaround between Sunday night and Monday morning 04.20.14 at 5:51 pm ET
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Win or lose Sunday night, it is unlikely that the Red Sox get a good night’€™s sleep.

With Sunday’€™s game starting at 7 p.m. and Marathon Monday’€™s beginning at 11:05 a.m., there will not be much of a turnaround between games. Farrell insisted that the team will not be looking ahead to Monday heading into Sunday night’€™s game, but he did not hide that the schedule is an inconvenience to the team.

“[Pre-game warmups] will be abbreviated tomorrow,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “Any work that we would do hitting-wise will be done in the cage.

“Marathon Monday is the traditional start time, but this is the first time coming off a night game. We are thankful for ESPN on most occasions, but we have to deal with the schedule given to us.”

The game before the 11 a.m. start is typically a day game in which the Red Sox have done well in recent years, as they have won eight out of their last nine pre-Marathon Monday contests. Boston has not lost the game before Marathon Monday since 2010, when it fell 7-1 to the Rays.

This year’€™s short break between games represents a new challenge though, and it is one that comes at a bad time early in the season. After all, the Red Sox have struggled out of the gate and are currently last in the AL East. The minimal rest comes right before nine games in 10 days against more division opponents, including the Yankees starting Tuesday.

OTHER RED SOX NOTES

Shane Victorino (hamstring) will be making at two more rehab appearances with Pawtucket before the team reassesses his status on Tuesday. During those two games, Farrell said the team is looking for him to get four at-bats Monday and play nine innings on Tuesday. Victorino went 0-for-3 Saturday in his first rehab game.

As for the corresponding roster move when he returns, that remains a discussion in the works.

“€œ[Conversations about a roster move] have been ongoing,” Farrell said. “They are not going to initiate once he is getting ready to come back. We have looked at every available combination of outfielders.”€

Will Middlebrooks (calf) will be joining Victorino in Pawtucket Monday as he works toward his return from the DL. His tentative schedule is to be playing Monday, Wednesday and Thursday before the team re-evaluates his status.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: mike napoli, Red Sox, Shane Victorino, Will Middlebrooks
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