In the two weeks since Will Middlebrooks was optioned to the Triple A Pawtucket, the third baseman has gone through all the emotional stages.
“I saw a frustrated Will, a humbled Will, and now he’s adjusting to being one of the guys down here,” said PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina. “He’s here. He’s not going anywhere.”
What started as early season struggles stretched deeper into the season, eventually leading the Red Sox to send the 24-year-old down June 25. Unlike when he went to Pawtucket on a rehab assignment earlier that month, there is no timetable for his return. He was told he would be there for as long as it took for him to rediscover some consistency at the plate.
“It was really tough to get optioned because you worked so hard to get there to that point,” Middlebrooks said. “You kind of lose it like that.”
He sensed it, he said, especially with Jose Iglesias’s success making it hard for Sox manager John Farrell to keep him out of the lineup. But it didn’t make it easier.
“When it happened, that’s hard to swallow,” Middlebrooks said. “I pretty much had a feeling it was coming, especially with Iggy doing so well. And I need to play. I don’t want to sit on the bench and just watch every day. I’m not going to get any better there. If anything, I’m going to get worse. So this was a good thing for me, a good thing for my career and hopefully we’ll look back at this in a couple years and laugh about it.”
Although he hit eight homers and drove in 21 runs in his first 46 games, he never found any consistency at the plate. His was hitting .192 when he was sent down with 60 strikeouts in 203 at-bats.
“Frustrated is the word,” Middlebrooks said. “Because you know you’re a good player and you’re just not doing it for whatever reason. So I was very frustrated and I let that carry over and it just snowballed.”
He acknowledged he sometimes would try to break out of the slump with one swing.
“There were times where I got too big and you try to get 10 hits in one at-bat or try to hit a five-run homer with nobody on,” Middlebrooks said. “It’s tough man.”
He’s hit .256 with 6 homers and 22 RBIs for Pawtucket, including a 4-for-5, eight-RBI performance July 3 against the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Rail Raiders. But more than mechanics, he said, he’s made it a priority to clear his head and cut out as many distractions as possible.
“Honestly, they didn’t say, ‘Do this, Do that,’” Middlebrooks said. “A lot of people said, ‘Have they said to work on strikeouts because you haven’t been striking out very much?’ No. I’m just working on my focus, man. What they said was we want you to just be yourself again — in whatever way that is.
“They didn’t say, ‘Work on hitting the ball to right or work on hitting the ball to left or whatever.’ It was nothing like that. It was just be yourself again because you’re frustrated, you’re getting down about it. You’re just not yourself.
“I feel relaxed now and I feel like when I get my opportunity to go back, my mind-set’s different,” he said. “I feel like I just have blinders on now, to be honest … I had a lot going on, but I just tried to quiet my life down. I had a lot of noise and I just tried to simplify everything. The more simple everything is, the easier it is, I guess.”