Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks (64) warms up prior to a game against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
It's not just Jacoby Ellsbury, who is returning to action Friday night against the Rays, who has positive news surrounding injury. Two other important members of the Red Sox that the lineup sorely missed in the last week have updates worth talking about -- and in one case, you're allowed to jump up and down and yell with glee -- that merit mentioning.
First, the more timely news: third basman Will Middlebrooks, who missed the end of the series against the Mariners, then the entire A's and Yankees series, will return to Boston's lineup against the Rays. Middlebrooks was dealing with tightness in his hamstring, and both the third baseman and the Sox were worried it was worse than it was, but he's ready to go back to playing. It's a good thing, too, because the constant drumbeat of what Kevin Youkilis is up to now that he's had a change of scenery, is guaranteed to play again, and doesn't have to worry about being dealt was getting tiresome in a let's talk about that without considering any context kind of way.
Middlebrooks is hitting .298/.335/.538 on the season, in addition to quality defense at the hot corner, and while his third base replacements managed a productive .357/.379/.464 line in his absence, you'd much prefer more Middlebrooks than additional attempts at making Mauro Gomez remember his days as a third baseman.
The second bit of news is that Dustin Pedroia is out of his thumb cast, and took batting practice on Thursday. He hopes to be back when his 15-day disabled list stint hits that 15th day -- i.e., in time to face the Blue Jays following the Rays and White Sox series. That's a great sign, since it was somewhat up in the air as to how much damage there was, and whether Pedroia would be out longer than the minimum. Like with Middlebrooks, Sox second basemen survived the week without him, to the tune of .333/.409/.444, but you can't rely on Pedro Ciriaco to destroy all those who oppose him forever.
The return of both is key to the Red Sox' hopes, as they're about to start a stretch that could very well determine how the rest of their season goes. There's a whole lot of 2012 left to play, but things get significantly rougher from here on out if the Red Sox don't come out of the rest of July with positive distance between them and a .500 record.