Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
Will Middlebrooks is cleared to play, the rotation order is set, and the AL East is going to be a tough place to play
If you were still holding in your breath after Will Middlebrooks appeared to injure his wrist on a check swing Wednesday night, you can finally exhale now. Not only does the Boston third baseman feel no pain in his wrist, but he took batting practice earlier on Thursday, and has been cleared by a wrist specialist to resume all baseball activities.
It's a good thing he's feeling fine, and not just because Middlebrooks, by all accounts, seems like a dude who is easy to root for. The Red Sox don't have another legitimate third base option on the roster, as Brock Holt is busy trying to find out if he can handle the position, Xander Bogaerts is still a shortstop with a handful of third base frames to his credit -- never mind the whole "in Double-A" thing -- and Pedro Ciriaco is somewhat questionable as a reliable bench piece, never mind the starting third baseman on a team trying to contend.
Middlebrooks has gone out of his way to suggest he's fine, and actually seems more embarrassed about the situation than anything. Per Alex Speier:
"I'm fine, man. Same as last night. Just scared. It scared me. I felt just an awkward feeling, awkward movement of the wrist. It was the initial zing of pain and that was it. I expect to be fine. I'm fine right now. I could have swung a bat last night," said Middlebrooks.
"I'm not hurt," said Middlebrooks. "I've got my tail tucked a little bit. That's about it."
Good news all around, given how precarious Boston's position would have been in the AL East if some of the worst-case scenario situations had arisen after seeing the specialist.
It's just February, albeit the last day, but the Red Sox have plotted out their rotation already.
Felix Doubront is expected to be returned from strengthening his shoulder in time to be caught up and stuck in the fourth spot. Splitting up the lefties makes enough sense on the surface, but it is a bit interesting to see that John Lackey is last in line instead of Doubront, when it's Doubront who there are more concerns with regarding needing time off. Between his inefficiency in 2012, his shoulder weakness this spring, and his career-high in innings being, there are definitely question marks to consider. That being said, it's easy enough to skip Doubront when necessary and shift Lackey up a game, especially when you toss days off in the schedule into the mix.
MLB.com's Matthew Leach wrote about the AL East picture, and how, at this point, any of the clubs involved could take home the division. (Well, sort of. The Orioles don't get much love from Leach, and he instead lets them do the talking for themselves.) While it's mostly about the Blue Jays and Yankees, he has this to say about Boston:
As for the Red Sox, who became a punch line last year, they won 90 games two years ago. They added an army of hitters to bolster a lineup that cratered last year. Their bullpen is improved and their rotation has questions, but also promise. It might not work. But you don't have to squint too hard to see how it could go very well.
That last bit is about all you can ask for at the national level right now: simply accepting that there's a good chance the Red Sox could be a pretty good team in 2013.