BOSTON — One must look beyond the numbers for a glimpse at Will Middlebrooks’ offensive development.
Middlebrooks propelled the Boston Red Sox to a 4-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday with an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning. The clutch, bases-loaded knock capped a seven-pitch at-bat in which Middlebrooks laid off several tough offerings from Reds reliever J.J. Hoover before eventually lining a 3-2 fastball into center field.
“Once it was full count, I knew he was going to come right after me with the heater,” Middlebrooks said. “He didn’t want to walk me in that situation.”
Middlebrooks tried to jump on a first-pitch fastball from Hoover after the right-hander intentionally walked Jackie Bradley Jr. to pack the bags. The slugger came up empty. Rather than fall out of his approach, Middlebrooks buckled down and worked his way back into the count.
After fouling off a 93 mph fastball to even the count at 2-2, Middlebrooks laid off a mislocated slider to run the count full. Hoover went back to the fastball with his sixth pitch of the at-bat, and Middlebrooks again fouled it off, paving the way for the third baseman’s huge hit on the next offering.
“The average might not show it, but the quality of (Middlebrooks’) at-bats are good,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after the game. “He’s not expanding off the plate away. He took a walk earlier in the game. (In the eighth inning), he settled in and got a pitch in the middle of the plate for the base hit up the middle. I think for his own confidence, in that key spot, it was good to see him come through.”
Middlebrooks’ 1-for-3 effort raised his average to .216. His on-base percentage sits at .344, and he’s still finding his rhythm after spending time on the disabled list with a calf strain. At-bats like the one Middlebrooks put together in the eighth inning Wednesday, however, show how much he’s improved from a plate discipline perspective in comparison to last season, when he swung at 30.8 percent of the pitches he saw located out of the strike zone and walked just 20 times in 374 plate appearances.
“The hits haven’t been there the last few days, but my approach is right where I want it to be,” Middlebrooks said. “I’m swinging what I want to swing at and taking what I want to take. I think I’ve hit the ball to shortstop about 105 times over the last week (and) it got a little frustrating, but it’s part of the game and you’ve got to make adjustments.”
The numbers right now might not suggest a drastic improvement over 2013 for Middlebrooks, but they could in time if the 25-year-old continues to exhibit the disciplined approach that came to light among Wednesday’s heroics.