PAWTUCKET, R.I. Ė Ask Will Middlebrooks what this season has been like for him, and he attempts a small smile. He pauses for a moment before responding.
ďWell, tough,Ē he said. ďItís been two years of this. Iím not one to make excuses but itís just tough. I feel like Iíve been healthy for about a month and half in the last two years. Thatís tough. Iím frustrated. I think anyone would be. I just want to play and play at the level I know Iím capable of.Ē
Middlebrooks was once one of the Red Sox highly regarded prospects. A fifth-round pick in 2007 out of Liberty-Eylau High in Texarkana, Texas, it was two years ago Tuesday that his play at third base forced the Sox to trade fan favorite and incumbent Kevin Youkilis.
Since then, though, Middlebrooks has been through a series of injuries and has appeared in total of 149 games over parts of three seasons. In his debut year, he hit .288/.325/.509 with 15 home runs, but he was limited to just 75 games when a wrist fracture ended his season on Aug. 10. Last season, a low back strain had him out for 16 games, while his performance limited him to 94 games and cost him his spot in the lineup during the World Series.
This season, he is hitting just .197 with a .629 OPS and has missed a total of 56 games with two stints on the DL for a right calf strain in April, and now a fractured right index finger, which has sidelined him since May 17.
He began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket on June 14, but has not played since Sunday as the middle knuckle on his right index finger flared up.
ďItís pretty sore,Ē he said. ďItís been sore for the last I donít know how long itís been, the last four or five weeks.
ďMaybe a little [swollen], not a lot. Just kind of hit a wall. Itís definitely getting better. Itís just a slow process. Itís tough because itís the worst [finger to injure] for throwing. It's the main one for throwing. Swinging a bat, I feel it but itís not too bad. Throwing is the toughest part right now for it.Ē
Middlebrooks was hopeful he could be back in the PawSox lineup Wednesday, serving as the designated hitter, and possibly returning to the field later this week. But, heíll have to wait and see.
ďItís not a setback,Ē he said. ďItís just pump the brakes for a second and weíll get back on a routine.Ē
Does he feel snakebit?
ďI donít know,Ē he said. ďMy biggest focus now is just to get healthy and letís try this thing again. I try not to get down, try not to be negative about it. And just try to move on. Thatís all I can do.
ďThe past week or two weeks Iíve been down here playing and Iíve felt good. Iím seeing the ball well. Iím having fun. Obviously, itís in the back of my mind: Be careful, donít get hurt, donít set yourself back. But at the same time, Iím having fun. Iím playing baseball again. Iím sick of sitting out for four or five weeks at a time. That gets old.
ďEven when I was hurt, or playing through stuff, or whatever, I still had fun playing. Itís baseball, and itís what I love to do. I think the biggest thing with just being healthy is helping my team win. And I havenít been able to do that in a while.Ē
Watching the underperforming World Series champions while sidelined is difficult. But Middlebrooks tries not to compound that by putting more pressure on himself. He just wants to get back as soon as possible, and help any way he can.
Sox manager John Farrell said recently that may be in the outfield, where the major league teamís production has been woeful. Middlebrooks has never played there, not even in Little League. Heís willing to give it a try, though.
ďI just want to get healthy and get back and helping whichever way I can, whether thatís in the outfield or whatever they need,Ē he said. ďIím not going to be an outfielder. I think itís just something like plug in if they need me. There hasnít been any talk about it other than the first time when they said, hey, just take some balls out there. I havenít talked any more about it.Ē
Adding the outfield to his repertoire could increase his versatility and value Ė especially as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. He tries not to think about that, though.
ďPeople talk about it but I havenít read one article this year,Ē he said. ďI think thatís something thatís helped me. Just kind of keep my nose out of things and it kind of keeps my mind from wandering. I havenít been on twitter, I havenít been reading articles. Better off that way. I can just focus on what I need to do. And a lot lately itís just been getting healthy. Itís a broken record but itís true.Ē
Last season several teams were interested in Middlebrooks. Itís nice to hear, but for now, it doesnít really matter.
ďI have to feel like my valueís pretty low right now,Ē he said. ďBut at the same time I donít want to go anywhere. I want to play here. Who doesnít want to play in an organization like Boston? Thatís not even on my radar. I donít want to go anywhere. I want to play here. Just get healthy to where I can play to the best of my ability.Ē
Itís tough for a player who was previously so highly regarded to admit his value is low.
ďYeah, it sucks, but it is what it is,Ē he said. ďIíve been hurt. Thereís nothing I can do about this. Itís not like itís because I havenít taken care of my body or I havenít done what I can do. Itís just accidents and things that have happened. Up until 2012 I didnít really deal with a whole lot of injuries in my life.