Rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks missed Monday night's contest against the Oakland Athletics, thanks to a hamstring injury suffered against the Mariners in Seattle. It's not quite clear just yet how much the injury will affect him -- hence a day off versus a stint on the disabled list -- but manager Bobby Valentine has also made it clear that the DL could be in his best interests and future:
"We won't let the calendar dictate it. We'll just see how he feels," he said. "Maybe DL, maybe a few days. It's just one of those injuries. I think we've had them before."
With all that in mind, Valentine said he "wouldn't be surprised" if the Red Sox recalled another player from Triple-A Pawtucket in time for Tuesday's game.
Whether or not Middlebrooks hits the DL has a lot to do with how he feels on Tuesday. Boston's second game against the A's isn't until 10 pm on the west coast, so we might not know until late Tuesday -- just as if it wasn't known if Middlebrooks would sit on Monday or not -- but it sounds as if missing the game will send him on the DL.
The good news is that a 15-day DL stint, at this time of year, he'd only miss 11 more games, as the four-day All-Star break would be in the midst of that stretch. The less good news is that Middlebrooks, hitting .298/.335/.538 and fourth among Sox regulars in OPS+, would still miss 11 more games.
In his place, already on the roster, is Nick Punto (who has hit .303/.395/.455 since the end of May), as well as the recently acquired Brent Lillibridge. Third base is the position he's played least of the ones he's suited up -- and that's every position except catcher -- but he's a former shortstop who can still pop in there when necessary, so third shouldn't be an insurmountable issue. He's only viable offensively against left-handers, though, so he isn't a full-time replacement for Middlebrooks in a DL stint, even if he could get some playing time.
Jose Iglesias has returned from his back injury, already has an option in play in 2012, and is on the 40-man roster, so he'd be an easy call-up as well, if the Sox were inclined to move Mike Aviles off of shortstop for a couple of weeks. Aviles has had his issues at the plate at times during the 2012 season, but defensively, he's produced enough to justify leaving him at short, so it's not clear if Boston would want to bother him with a move temporarily. Then again, they did plop Adrian Gonzalez into right field for weeks, and at least Aviles used to play third regularly.
Iglesias has an ugly season line, but before the back issue that cost him a few weeks, he was hitting well at Pawtucket for the first time in his career. It might not be pretty at the plate for two weeks, but it's liable to be much more attractive than it would have been early in the year.
Why not just call up Pedro Ciriacio, Nate Spears, or the recently-signed Andy LaRoche to take the 40-man roster spot opened up by designating Darnell McDonald for assignment instead? The Sox could do that, but, as Tim Britton points out, with Carl Crawford's rehab moving to Double-A Portland, Jacoby Ellsbury's not far behind, and Andrew Bailey returning not long after that, the 40-man roster is soon to see three new faces, meaning whoever is called up will have to be designated in a few weeks, increasing the chances they won't be late-season depth, still at Pawtucket, for the Red Sox in the rest of the second half.
No, they don't have Kevin Youkilis to just step in anymore, but you might be surprised to find that the Sox are still fine in the backup third baseman department. Nick Punto has disappointed in his 97 plate appearances, posting a line of .200/.316/.275 despite his recent surge, but he's not far behind Youk's season line of .233/.307/.360, either. And, in Youk's case, he's only been worse as of late, not improving. Punto's glove more than closes the gap with this iteration of Youkilis, and if it needs to be him at third for 11 more games while Middlebrooks rests, than production-wise, the Sox are likely looking at something similar in the overall results department, had they held on to Youk.