So the juggling act between Will Middlebrooks and Kevin Youkilis has run its course. With most of his outfielders healthy, Valentine can’t afford to continue sliding Adrian Gonzalez into right field to open a first base spot in the lineup for Youkilis.
By slotting Gonzalez into the outfield, the Red Sox are risking his health as well as possible fielding miscues. So at this point, Valentine has decided that enough has been enough with the experiment.
“We’ll take it day by day,” Valentine said. “But I think if I had my druthers [Gonzalez would] stay at first. But the reason he didn’t was because of necessity.”
As a result of that mentality, the skipper will select his starting third baseman based on who is batting with the “hot hand.” In reality, since Middlebrooks made his major league debut on May 2, he’s spearheaded the offensive attack.
In 38 games and 145 plate appearances this season, the 23-year-old has uncorked eight home runs and 31 RBIs. And he’s done it on a consistent basis for the Red Sox, owning a .316 batting average.
Compared to Youkilis, there’s a large disparity. After 41 games and 161 plate appearances this season — with a stint on the disabled list sandwiched in between — the 33-year-old only has four homers, 13 RBIs and a .225 batting average to show for it.
Amid the scrutinized slump, Youkilis has still earned respect by taking Middlebrooks under his wing.
“He’s been awesome,” Middlebrooks said. “He’s helped me out so much, man — not just baseball, but off the field, how to handle everything.”
But numbers don’t lie and Valentine has elected to start Middlebrooks. Despite the decision, the Red Sox skipper allowed himself some wiggle room, subtly insinuating that it’s not set in stone just yet.
“Today I’m riding the hot hand,” Valentine said. “Tomorrow might not be the case. And I always reserve the right to change my mind.”
Youkilis isn’t completely on board with the outlook. But after Middlebrooks launched two homers in the past two games, including a game-tying shot in Thursday’s win over the Marlins, the youngster ultimately forced Valentine’s hand.
Photo via Facebook/Will Middlebrooks