BOSTON — At least Will Middlebrooks was given a heads up this time around.
Middlebrooks got his first taste of second base back on Aug. 21 in San Francisco. He grounded out in the top of the seventh inning, looked down the dugout and saw John Farrell hold up two fingers, indicating that Middlebrooks would be moving to second. It threw the 25-year-old third baseman for a loop.
“I didn’t know what he was talking about,” Middlebrooks said after the game. “I had to run up and get a different glove.”
Middlebrooks will once again wear a different glove than he’s accustomed to during Saturday’s game against the Blue Jays, as he’ll start at first base for the first time in his major league career.
Middlebrooks’ first action at first base coincides with a scheduled off day for Mike Napoli, who has come on strong after going through some midseason struggles. It’s unclear how much Middlebrooks will play first base over the final seven games, but Farrell obviously wants to test out some things before the playoffs begin. The goal is to see how Middlebrooks responds at the position in case he needs to move across the diamond during a tight game in which the Red Sox pinch run for Napoli.
“We’ll take a look at this as we go forward,” Farrell said Saturday. “It’s going to be dependent upon how much downtime is beneficial for Mike [Napoli], what the matchup is on a given day. When we go to Colorado, there are going to be two right-handed starters who are thrown against us, so we’ll probably see Mike Carp and possibly David [Ortiz] over there, but we’re certainly open-minded to it. If we weren’t, he wouldn’t be there tonight.”
All of Middlebrooks’ 153 starts before Saturday came down at the hot corner. He appeared in just two games at second base earlier this season. Middlebrooks has moved over to the right side of the infield during numerous defensive shifts, however, so the position change isn’t completely foreign.
“I don’t know if it’s going to have a huge impact at the position tonight, but that’s why we felt that him shifting over in those alignments [and] him being our second baseman was not a huge difference, because he’s been on that side of the infield a number of times,” Farrell said. “Will has worked out at first base in early work throughout periodic times during the year. He’s a good athlete. We feel like he shouldn’t be a fish out of water in this.”
Certainly, Middlebrooks will need to make some adjustments. While Farrell noted that Middlebrooks will still need to use his reactionary skills, playing first base requires a different approach when it comes to opposing hitters.
“Any time you move to a different position, it’s going to take some repetition,” Farrell said. “Still, you’re at a corner, so there’s a similar reaction time that’s going to be required there. In the case of tonight, Will has been some accustomed to seeing a right-handed hitter. The reaction time is going to be different because it’s a lefty. But again, he’s an infielder. That requires doing some things that are reactionary and that’s going to be the same as first base.”
The biggest difference between playing first base as opposed to third base is that Middlebrooks won’t have to worry too much about making long throws across the diamond. But there are other tidbits that replace those throws, such as knowing when to get back to the bag on ground balls to the right side.
“That’s probably the biggest thing, is knowing where the cutoff is to be able to still get back to the bag,” Farrell said. “That was the one thing that — in just comparison — Mike Napoli has really become comfortable with after that point toward the latter part of spring training. Knowing the range of the guy at second base, but really the responsibility of getting back to the bag. That’s probably the biggest thing.”
The biggest thing aside from grabbing the right glove, of course.