Will Middlebrooks has been as productive as anyone could have hoped since his return from Triple-A, and on Wednesday night against the Rockies, he showed off a couple of reasons why by bashing a pair of homers while driving in seven.
The first homer came in the top of the fifth, with the Sox up 7-4. Middlebrooks worked the count to 3-1, watched a 3-2 pitch over the middle, then took a Chacin fastball over the outer edge of the plate the opposite way for a three-run homer:
Middlebrooks didn't go the opposite way much -- not with authority, not even dinky singles -- before he was sent down to Pawtucket in June. It's very likely that, back in April, he would have tried to pull this and come away with a far less productive hack. Since closing up his swing mechanics while on his minor-league stint, though, he's shown much more ability to do just that, and last night's blast was part of that change in approach.
Then, there was the grand slam off of Roy Oswalt in the top of the eighth inning on an 0-2 pitch.
Rather than panic and unravel while down in the count, like Middlebrooks seemed to do so often during the first few months of the season, he recognized what Oswalt was throwing, stayed back on it, and golfed it over the fence in left field. You can see from this side view below exactly how he reacted to the curveball low and inside in order to drive it:
Just a few months ago, rather than stop his movement and stay back on the pitch, you likely would have seen Middlebrooks whiff through for strike three. Instead, he holds his weight and momentum back ever so slightly, and then puts a charge into the Oswalt offering, plating four.
These might seem like little things, but they're representative of the entire shift in approach that has allowed Middlebrooks to hit .298/.354/.519 with eight homers in 38 games since his recall. If Middlebrooks can go the other way and recognize big-league breaking stuff with authority in the proper counts, then he's a dangerous opponent in an already deep Red Sox lineup. That's great news for now -- a few days out from the postseason -- and for later, where Middlebrooks can slot in as the third baseman of the future as was hoped.
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