Ask Nick: What’s up with Middlebrooks?

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Despite a good start by the Red Sox, there are still concerns out there among our readers.

Among them are the slow starts of Will Middlebrooks, Stephen Drew, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and how the bullpen will shake out with players returning from injuries — namely, John Lackey, Joel Hanrahan, Franklin Morales, and Craig Breslow.

Hopefully, we have a few answers. Here’s the mailbag.

What’s up with Will Middlebrooks? He looks awful at bat — very uncomfortable. And his contact is very weak. I don’t know how to square what I’ve been seeing the past week with the multiple home run game earlier. What do you think?
Tom, Middlebury, Vt.
This question was asked prior to Middlebrooks’s three-run homer Monday, but he’s a guy in his second year and pitchers are definitely not giving him much to hit after a good rookie season. All players have to make major adjustments as they go along to remain good hitters, and Middlebrooks is going through his growing pains.

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How long do you think the Red Sox will wait before trying to add some pop to the lineup? Between the catcher position, third, and short, we’re getting nothing. You would think something’s got to give pretty soon, especially with Iglesias, no matter how much they’re paying J.D. Jr.
Tod, Kennebunk, Maine
They’re committed to the players at all the positions you mentioned. Salty and Middlebrooks have power they feel will show up, and they’re paying Drew $9.5 million. Iglesias has slumped in Pawtucket. So right now, nothing will give.

Can you tell us more about the strike zone that appears on the screen on NESN with each pitch? Is it customized for each batter or is it a one-size-fits-all template? That could explain some of the frequent differences between the display and the umpire’s call.
Larry, Wakefield
Umpires tell me that the “Amica strike zone” isn’t accurate. There are pitches that land outside the zone that look to be balls, but umpires call strikes on pitches that cross the plate as strikes.

It seems to me Sox pitchers and hitters have quelled their expressions of dismay on close (or bad) calls this season. Did Farrell take a look at last year’s crybabies and lay down the law?
Glenn, Holliston
One of the first things he told Jon Lester: Stop your bellyaching.

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How in the world did the Red Sox let Rich Hill go? He is one of the best lefty relievers in the game — 1.84 ERA over 20 innings when with the Sox, lights out now for Cleveland.
Dana, Los Angeles
He was a free agent, and they couldn’t guarantee him a major league deal. They had Miller, Morales, Breslow at the time, and he’s been hurt quite a bit.


I saw the vote for closer between Hanrahan and Bailey; what about Tazawa? Also, if Bradley becomes the everyday left fielder and with Ortiz at DH, would the Sox trade Gomes? Finally, if Bradley does play full-time, would Ellsbury be agreeable to moving to left field since Bradley is a much better center fielder?
Eric, Granite Bay, Calif.
Tazawa definitely has closer stuff, but he’s not going to break through unless there’s an injury. Bradley is in Pawtucket playing center, and I may disagree that he’s a better center fielder than Ellsbury. He does have a better arm than Ellsbury, but Ellsbury is really good. I’ve never seen Bradley play major league center field.
At what point, if any, does management raise the white flag and bring Iglesias back in the fold, assuming Drew’s bat continues to plague the offense? Gomes is on the bench and Nava is playing more and more, so there doesn’t appear to be an issue with that swap. Here’s hoping that Drew does come around and contributes at the plate as well as on defense.
Lester, Chesapeake, Va.

Like I said, they’ll stick with Drew for quite a while. He’s basically having his spring training right now, because he missed so much of it. It could reach the point where they deal Drew at the deadline if Iglesias is decent offensively. Iglesias is a run saver.
Why does Saltalamacchia lob the ball back to the pitcher? Why doesn’t someone tell him to put some mustard on the ball? I believe I saw a runner steal home a couple of years ago because of this.
Doug, Tampa, Fla.

He’s had a throwing yip in the past. It may be a mechanism thing.
As inconsistent and shaky as Hanrahan and Bailey appear to be, don’t you feel Uehara and Tazawa would be better in those roles, especially Koji?
Robert, Palm Coast, Fla.

I can see Tazawa but not Uehara. Koji is old (38) and has had too many injuries to rely on him in that type of role. He’s excellent where he is.
What are the Red Sox thinking in terms of the ceiling with Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa? What are their plans in bringing De La Rosa along?
Joseph, Louisville, Ky.
Webster will be a fixture in their rotation sometime this season. De La Rosa will come a little slower. They are trying to decide whether he’s a starter or a future closer.
Why didn’t Carp start the game the other day? Why didn’t he hit for Gomes with the bases loaded? Farrell is a little better than Francona in putting his team in the best position to win at each crucial decision, and he certainly knows how to handle the pitching staff (exception: leaving Aceves in too long).
Larry, Encinitas, Calif.
Good question. I thought the same thing. I think Farrell wanted to avoid them bringing in the lefty if I can recall the situation correctly.
Why can’t the Dodgers score? Gonzalez and Crawford have both had hot starts and yet only the awful Marlins have scored fewer runs than the Dodgers’ 3 per game. Kershaw is 2-2 despite a 1.88 ERA and Beckett took a 1-0 complete-game loss in his only decent start thus far. I know it’s early, but if the Red Sox had only scored 54 runs through 18 games, people would be calling for Cherington’s head.
Max, Sparks, Nev.
The Blue Jays of the NL, I guess. Don’t get too excited one way or the other in April would be my advice.
Who typically holds the advantage, pitcher or hitter, when facing one’s former team (re: Bailey vs. Oakland)?
Jesse, Via Mito, Japan
Depends who the pitcher is, but I would always say the pitcher.
Watching Josh Beckett’s free fall the last year and so far this season, I can’t help but see the similarity between him another former Red Sox ace from days past, Dennis Eckersley. I wonder if anyone has considered moving Beckett to the pen?
Richard, Pownal, Vt.
The only fly in the ointment there is that Beckett is pitching well for the Dodgers as a starter.
What is with Jonny Gomes and his batting helmet? I have always considered Nomar to be the greatest fidgeter of all time in the batter’s box, but Gomes clearly exceeds him. Not only does he adjust his gloves and his elbow pad on each pitch, but he then goes through multiple gyrations with his batting helmet. Maybe he should get one that fits.
Bob, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Everyone has his own routine in the batter’s box. Could care less. The important thing is what he does during that at-bat.
The bullpen is already looking taxed, having thrown four or more innings eight times in 18 games. After watching Allen Webster get through six innings with well under 100 pitches and showing good poise in his first big league start, I’m looking for more from him. Any chance the Sox bail on Doubront, who in the last two years hasn’t shown the ability to get past the fifth inning?
Nate, Nashville, Tenn.
They would only bail on Doubront is there’s an injury or if he’s completely ineffective. Finally got deep into a game on Monday. If he keeps doing that, he sticks.

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