Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Barnes Off to Slow Starts in Minors, But Red Sox Shouldn’t Be Too Concerned

Rubby MailbagWith the Red Sox enjoying the best record in Major League Baseball, there’s not a lot to argue about with the hometown team. But Boston does have some gray clouds in its mostly sunny skies. Parts of the offense are still failing to click, and a couple of the best arms in the farm system have yet to prove themselves this season.

Let’s get down to the various topics of concern and see what we can expect out of the Red Sox — on the big league squad and beyond.

How long can the Red Sox keep winning with Stephen Drew and Will Middlebrooks struggling at the plate?
— Ben Johnson, via Facebook

You could look at the struggles of Will Middlebrooks and Stephen Drew in one of two ways. You could take a pessimistic approach and assume the wheels will fall off if the top of the order stumbles, or you could play the role of optimist and assume things are only going to get better for the offense when Middlebrooks and Drew come around. I tend to fall on the optimistic side of the fence because I’m confident both Middlebrooks and Drew will improve sooner rather than later.

Middlebrooks is simply too talented to continue hitting around .200, and I chalk his early-season struggles up to nothing more than growing pains. He burst onto the scene last season and immediately elevated expectations for 2013 as a result, but let’s keep in mind that he’s still just 24 years old with less than 100 games and 400 at-bats of big league experience.

In fact, Middlebrooks is already starting to show improvement. Over the last few games, he has looked more comfortable in the box, he is staying on the ball and his swing has been more controlled through the strike zone. As we get deeper into the season, I fully expect Middlebrooks’ offensive production to rise, which would essentially render your question moot.

I’m a little less confident when it comes to Drew, mostly because his struggles are a continuation of last season. Prior to his 2011 ankle injury, Drew was a very solid offensive shortstop. He’s been far less productive at the plate since, though, and that’s a bit concerning.

But just as we shouldn’t automatically assume Drew will go back to his 2010 form, we also shouldn’t assume he’s a lost cause. His spring training was cut short by a concussion, which means he’s still trying to find his rhythm at the dish. Personally, I think the Red Sox should have had Drew go through a longer rehab stint, especially with Jose Iglesias playing so well, but there’s no sense splitting hairs on what is already over and done with. Looking at the situation as it stands, I think Drew will find some level of comfort as me move forward.

So what does this all mean for the Red Sox? Well, they’re one of the best teams in baseball right now, and the biggest reason is the pitching. As long as that keeps up, the offense can afford to go through an adjustment period.

Will Middlebrooks is playing like Mike Lowell and looking good. What is Lowell’s employment looking like? Bring him on!
— Timothy DeLong, via Facebook

I assume you’re talking about Will Middlebrooks from a defensive standpoint, and there’s a reason you’re seeing shades of Mike Lowell. It’s because Lowell actually worked with Middlebrooks during spring training.

Middlebrooks’ footwork has improved, and he’s made some nifty barehanded plays down at the hot corner in the early going. I’m sure Lowell’s tutelage has a little something to do with that.

Lowell has said in the past that he’d like to get into coaching or managing, and given his baseball IQ, I have no doubts that he’ll someday find himself in such a position. For now, though, he’s enjoying his retired life while working as an analyst.

What is baseball?
— Tim Clarkin, via Facebook

America’s pastime.

Why did the Red Sox bring up Ryan Lavarnway when they sent down Alfredo Aceves? Isn’t it overkill to have three catchers on the active roster?
— David Mottola, via Facebook

Ryan Lavarnway has since been optioned back to Triple-A, but the Red Sox called him up because he was the best offensive option available in Pawtucket.

Adding an outfielder seemed logical given Shane Victorino’s lingering back issue, but Jackie Bradley Jr. was ineligible to be called up because it had been fewer than 10 days since he was sent down. Alex Hassan — the only other outfielder on Boston’s 40-man roster — is currently on the disabled list.

I love Dustin Pedroia with the scruff. He wouldn’t look good without it. Look at Kevin Youkilis now that he had to shave his beard — he looks bad.
— Lacey Vassallo, via Facebook

I’ll relay the message.

I heard Matt Barnes tweaked his hamstring. What’s his status?
— Tom Oleary, via Facebook

Matt Barnes is healthy, but he’s been rather ineffective through four starts at Double-A Portland this season. Barnes gave up a career-high 11 hits on Friday while surrendering six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. His ERA now sits at 9.00 (14 earned runs in 14 innings).

Reports indicate that Barnes is struggling with his command, particularly as it pertains to his secondary pitches. The velocity on his fastball is still there, though, and the movement on his secondary pitches has been good, even if the location hasn’t been.

Why did Big Papi think it was OK to say [expletive] over the P.A. system?
— Mike Schellbach, via Facebook

Because this is America. Love it or leave it.

How’s Rubby De La Rosa doing now that Allen Webster got a start? Is he on the DL or something?
— Taufiq Ramadhan, via Facebook

Rubby De La Rosa isn’t hurt, but the Red Sox have made it clear that they’re going to be very careful with him in his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery. He’s been limited to just 9 2/3 innings at Triple-A Pawtucket as part of the Red Sox’ plan, so he was never really an option over Allen Webster, who figures to be Boston’s sixth starter when needed going forward.

De La Rosa has been rather ineffective in his limited action this season, particularly with his command. He’s given up 10 earned runs in 9 2/3 innings (9.31 ERA), and he’s walked eight hitters in that span (which equates to 7.4 walks per nine innings). There’s no denying De La Rosa has electric stuff, though. The focus right now is on making sure he’s fully healthy before really taking the training wheels off, but we should see improvements going forward.

Which team besides the Rangers is most likely to challenge the Red Sox in the American League?
— Josh Percy, via Facebook

I think there are plenty of teams who will “challenge” the Red Sox in the American League. Boston has looked like the best team in baseball thus far, but let’s keep in mind that we’re only a month into the season. Therefore, I’m reluctant to change my opinion too much when it comes to the class of the AL.

I still think the Tigers are as talented as any team in baseball. They have an extremely potent offense and a deep rotation that’s anchored by the best pitcher in baseball, which is a damn good formula to work with. The biggest obstacle for them will be the bullpen, but adding Jose Valverde certainly helps.

I also still think highly of the Rays because of their pitching, and I expect the Angels to turn things around at some point.

All in all, I’d like to give you the cliché “it’s too early to tell” response, as that will keep me from looking like an idiot at the end of the year. If you’re throwing me in an armbar, though, I’ll take the Tigers.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here

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