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Familiar faces await Middlebrooks in Pawtucket

June 25, 2013

Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, shown at the plate during a game last year with the Pawtucket Red Sox, was optioned to the PawSox on Tuesday afternoon. He has hit .192 with the Boston Red Sox this season. PHOTO COURTESY OF PAWTUCKET RED SOX

PAWTUCKET – Will Middlebrooks does not need Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina or hitting coach Dave Joppie – two names who have previous player-coach relationships with the scuffling third baseman – to get in his face and flat-out tell the owner of a .192 big-league batting average this season where the areas of improvement lie.

“He knows what he needs to do,” said DiSarcina in anticipation of Middlebrooks’ arrival at McCoy Stadium on Wednesday, one day after getting informed by Boston skipper John Farrell that his season-long offensive funk had earned him a demotion to the Triple-A ranks.

“For us as a staff, we’re just going to leave him alone for a few days before getting more into detail of what we expect from him. It’s about getting back to the basics, which for him are competing and believing in his ability.

“We’re here to encourage and get him back on track so he can go back to the big leagues so John can use him,” he added. “It’s as plain and simple as you can be.”

DiSarcina was Middlebrooks’ first pro manager during the summer of 2008 in Single-A Lowell, while Joppie’s body of work includes 96 games in Double-A Portland in 2011.

“It means a lot when you have a prior relationship with a player; he trusts me and I trust him,” stated DiSarcina matter-of-factly. “Will knows that I’m not going to sugarcoat anything or sit here and tell him how great he is or why he’s not doing well. He knows that I’m in it for him.

“When you have a prior relationship, you cut through the (expletive) and get right to exactly what you want to talk about,” he continued. “A 10-minute conversation can now last two minutes because you get right to the point with someone you have trust in. He knows that I love him as a player, that he’s a great kid and we want the best for him.”

Further expunging upon how having past baseball relations with Middlebrooks will help facilitate the key points sooner rather than later, DiSarcina talked about the initial conversations that took place with outfield prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. after he was sent down. Those dealings were more of the “feel-you-out” variety before more pertinent topics were mixed into the conversation.

“With Bradley it was about finding out things because I didn’t know about him,” DiSarcina explained. “You have to give them their space because this is their life, so when they’re demoted, they feel like they’re not good enough. You let them relax a little bit before building up their confidence and start getting to work.”

This will mark Middlebrooks’ second stint with Pawtucket in less than a month. His first go-around had a sense of urgency surrounding it, given he was seeking to round back into form after landing on the disabled list with a back injury. Even then there was talk about Middlebrooks possibly remaining in the minors to address his swing, one that according to a scout on hand Tuesday at McCoy Stadium “needs to get up in the zone.”

The Middlebrooks that DiSarcina saw during that five-game stretch with the PawSox, “came in and had an urgent look on his face. The quick glimpse I saw of him … there’s no reason he can’t do that over an extended period of time.”
Upon returning to Boston, Middlebrooks found himself in a duel with Jose Iglesias to see who was going to see their name on the lineup card more often. Iglesias ended up prevailing in landslide fashion, thanks to a hot streak at the plate coupled with Middlebrooks’ inability to get on track. Blend those two elements together and it’s little wonder why the Red Sox took the course of action they did Tuesday.

“You start adding undo pressure on yourself because you want your job back,” said DiSarcina. “Maybe you start pressing and swinging at pitches you normally don’t swing at. For me, Will’s just going to peel it back to the basics.”

DiSarcina plans to take no joy in seeing a left side of the infield that features a rising prospect in shortstop Xander Bogaerts and a third baseman who is looking to restore the luster that surrounded Middlebrooks at this time a season ago.

“For me, it’s about getting Will back to the big-league level where he can win a world championship up in Boston,” said DiSarcina. “He’s a solid major-league player who’s going through a rough time right now. For me personally, it hurts. I’m not excited to have him out there. I wish he was somewhere else.”
Taking Middlebrooks’ place on Boston’s active roster is Brandon Snyder, who was added to the 40-man roster after catcher David Ross was placed on the 60-day disabled list with lingering concussion issues. Snyder was hitting .267 with 10 homers and 37 RBI in 63 games with the PawSox. He was in the midst of a 5-for-42 slump (.119) at the time of his call-up.

“Overall, Brandon’s body of work has been effective,” noted DiSarcina. “When you look at the big picture, he’s been one of our better players.”

Even though he’s on Boston’s 40-man, infielder Brock Holt continues to be slowed by an oblique injury that’s kept him out of the lineup for the past nine games. Once Holt is pronounced fit to return, he will likely become Pawtucket’s primary second baseman due to the presence of Middlebrooks and Bogaerts.

“If you can’t play down here, you can’t play up there,” said DiSarcina. “With Brock, it’s a matter of a few more days, maybe three, before hopefully getting him back out there.”

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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