Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks Hitting Stride As Opening Day Nears

Xander BogaertsThe Boston Red Sox certainly hope Wednesday offered some foreshadowing.

While the Red Sox lost Wednesday’s spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles, the club has to be encouraged by the progression of both Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks. The duo struck back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning of Wednesday’s 5-4 loss at JetBlue Park, and the left side of the Red Sox’s infield appears to be in a good place with Opening Day just days away.

“I think what we’re seeing in the last seven to 10 days is their comfort, timing and confidence in the box really playing out,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters after Wednesday’s game.

Bogaerts and Middlebrooks each have endured struggles this spring. Bogaerts called most of his spring training at-bats “terrible” earlier this week before noting his increasing comfort, and Middlebrooks has gone through some defensive lapses that have prompted extra work with infield instructor Brian Butterfield. Through it all, neither player’s confidence has wavered.

The Red Sox rolled the dice a bit by not re-signing Stephen Drew over the offseason. And while Drew remains a free agent, it appears Boston is content moving on from the veteran shortstop, well-aware that its current infield has plenty of untapped potential.

Bogaerts and Middlebrooks already have shown flashes of brilliance in their young careers. Middlebrooks burst onto the scene in 2012, while Bogaerts made his presence felt during the 2013 playoffs. But there are always going to be questions when a contender relies heavily on young players, and both Bogaerts and Middlebrooks have said all the right things and done all the right things this spring to make the Red Sox feel even better about the pair’s chances of succeeding in 2014.

Middlebrooks, who showed up to camp having put on 15 pounds of muscle, is hitting .341 (15-for-44) with four homers, eight RBIs and a 1.019 OPS in 16 spring training games. Bogaerts, meanwhile, is hitting .234 (11-for-47) with two homers, seven RBIs and a .746 OPS in 18 games and has started to string together better at-bats as spring training winds down.

The Red Sox won’t know for a few months whether they made the right decision by passing on Stephen Drew after the 30-year-old rejected their qualifying offer — assuming he doesn’t re-sign with Boston. But the Red Sox certainly have a talented infield tandem that’s hitting its stride at the right time this spring.

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