Having clinched the AL East division title Friday night, Red Sox manager John Farrell has the ability to get his players rest and make minor adjustments before the postseason begins.
With that in mind, Farrell is giving the night off to second baseman Dustin Pedroia and first baseman Mike Napoli, opting to play John McDonald at second and shift Will Middlebrooks over to first for the second game of the series against the Blue Jays.
“[Resting Pedroia has] been in the works for quite a while,” Farrell said. “I think he’s played 154 of these games. [Napoli] was another one, to get him off his feet for a day, so that’s why we got Middlebrooks at first tonight.”
Moving Middlebrooks to first base for the game was not something that Farrell came up with at the last minute, noting how he was planning for tonight’s matchup, as well as something he could use for the future.
“[Middlebrooks has] had some success against [Blue Jays pitcher Mark] Buehrle,” he said. “There may be the potential, the situation in the postseason where if we pinch run for [Napoli], does [Middlebrooks] go over to first? So there’s a couple things that go into thought with him being at first base here tonight.
“Anytime you move to a different position it’s going to take some repetition. Still, you’re on a corner so there’s a similar reaction time that’s going to be required there. In the case of tonight, Will has been so accustomed to seeing a right handed hitter, and the reaction time is going to be different because it’s a lefty… but again, he’s an infielder that’s required to do some things reactionary and that are going to be the same with first base.”
Middlebrooks has faced Buehrle 14 times in his career, recording six hits, including a double, in 13 at bats, while also being hit by a pitch. Middlebrooks has never played first base in a game in his career, but has seen some time on the right side of the infield, playing second base twice, as well as regularly during defensive shifts against some left handed hitters.
“I don’t know if it’s going to have a huge impact [tonight],” said Farrell when asked if Middlebrooks’ second base experience would help him play first base. “But that’s why we felt with him shifting over in those alignments, him being our backup second baseman was not a huge difference because he’s been on that side of the infield a number of times. Will has worked out at first base in early work, throughout periodic times during the year. He’s a good athlete, and we feel he shouldn’t be a fish out of water.”
Mastering the intricacies of playing first base are the most important aspects Farrell believes Middlebrooks will need to get used to in order to find success on the opposite side of the diamond, a shift that Mike Napoli had to make earlier in the year when he became a full-time first baseman for the first time.
“Knowing where the cutoff is [and] to be able to still get back to the bag,” Farrell said. “That’s the one thing Mike Napoli has really become comfortable with and got to that point towards 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.”
Middlebrooks has played 34 games since being called back up from Triple-A Pawtucket and is hitting .236 on the season with 15 home runs and 42 RBIs.