Thursday Red Sox Notes: Rich Hill, Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Sweeney, Felix Doubront

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 01: Rich Hill #53 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch against the Chicago White Sox on June 1, 2011 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

We've seen just about enough of Justin Thomas in these parts. The lefty has faced 25 batters in just 4-2/3 innings, owns a 7.71 ERA, and has given up two walks while also hitting a batter. That doesn't tell the whole story, either, as he's allowed six of the 13 runners he's inherited to score, and treated opponents to a line of .476/.520/.619.

If you were wondering, both of those figures are tied for the most in their respective categories. Yes, Justin Thomas has been given the opportunity to prevent more inherited runners from scoring than any other reliever in baseball this year, while simultaneously allowing the most to score. Part of that is that is the lefties he's supposed to retire. They collectively own an 861 OPS against him, 61 percent worse than your average left-handed reliever facing his fellow southpaw. He's much better against lefties than righties in 2012. It might not be Bobby Valentine's fault that Thomas is on the roster right now -- he didn't injure all those other pitchers -- but Thomas' continued use in high-leverage situations would be laughable, were fans not busy seething with deserved rage at the very idea.

Small samples are one thing, but Thomas has never found much success in the majors, either, and his minor-league numbers aren't convincing enough to keep the experiment going. It's very likely that, as soon as Friday, Thomas won't be a pitcher we see summoned from the bullpen anymore, though. Gorden Edes tweeted that Rich Hill will likely be called up Friday, and given Hill is left-handed, Thomas will at the least be optioned back down to Pawtucket, at worst (or best, depending on your point of view) designated in order to open up a spot on the 40-man roster. It's likely no one will claim Thomas, given his recent work, so the latter is certainly a viable option even if Boston's intent is to keep him around in the minors.

Hill has struck out 18 hitters in his nine innings of rehab this year, and against just two walks. His 93 mph four-seamer and curveball are a devastating strikeout combination in relief, and the hope is that most if that translates from Triple-A to the majors. It's not much to go on, but in his 12 innings with the Red Sox that came before his elbow blew out, Hill had yet to allow a run, thanks to 15 strikeouts against four walks with nary a homer allowed.

Alex Speier explains why Will Middlebrooks is not going to be called up to replace Kevin Youkilis, unless Youkilis goes down with an injury that keeps him out for a significant length of time:

And so, it has become a popular line of thinking to suggest that the Red Sox should call up Middlebrooks and let him displace the incumbent. How much thought have the Sox given to such a scenario?

"There's been no talk of that," said a team source this week. "None."

Middlebrooks hasn't been in Triple-A very long, and while the signs are encouraging -- his combined Pawtucket work features lower strikeout and higher walk rates than his Double-A figures from his breakout 2011, never mind the 11 homers in limited playing time -- it's still early, and he has plenty yet to learn. Triple-A will expose him to pitches he hasn't seen before, from pitchers more talented and refined than the ones he's faced in the past. That will prepare him for the majors, a place the Red Sox want him to stick once he gets there.

Never mind that Red Sox fans, of all fan bases in recent memory, should remember that an April slump from a 33-year-old slugger doesn't mean it's the end of the line. David Ortiz's April (and May, even) of 2009 would like a word.

*****

Ever wonder what has taken so long for Ryan Sweeney to get going offensively? (Or, even more likely, ever wonder why you're still a little nervous about the idea of him being a legitimate #2 hitter for the Red Sox?) The White Sox messed with his swing after converting him from pitching to a full-time outfielder, and it took him a few years to get settled in. Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal has the full story, and it's worth a look, especially for the story of Sweeney's pitching aptitude.

*****

MacPherson also has a look at tonight's starter, Felix Doubront, but not in a statistical or scouting way. Doubront's idol growing up was fellow Venezuelan left-hander Johan Santana, who just happens to be the pitcher dealt in exchange for Doubront's opponent, Philip Humber.

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