The days of trying to wedge two third basemen into the same lineup and playing Adrian Gonzalez in right field appear to be over for the Red Sox.
Will Middlebrooks started at third base against the Atlanta Braves on Friday night with Gonzalez at first base. That left Kevin Youkilis on the bench.
“Today I’m riding the hot hand. Tomorrow might not be the case,’’ manager Bobby Valentine said prior to the Sox’ 4-1 loss. “I always reserve the right to change my mind.’’
But Valentine also said he had a conversation with Youkilis, indicating that this is more than a day-to-day decision. Youkilis has been out of the lineup for two consecutive games.
“[He] doesn’t necessarily totally agree with it,’’ Valentine said. “I think the professional person that Kevin is understands it. I think he’s fine.’’
Youkilis is hitting .225 with a .670 OPS in 41 games and 161 plate appearances. He is 4 for his last 28.
The Red Sox are likely to trade Youkilis, with the Braves, Indians, Pirates, White Sox, and Dodgers among the teams interested.
“To say I’m having the greatest time of my life, no,’’ Youkilis told WAAF radio on Friday. “I want to play every day and I want to play, and I’m the first one to say my performance this year has stunk.
“As of late, I feel like I’m finding my way of hitting and I’ve got to keep grinding away. I want to play. But if I’m not in the lineup, I can’t do anything about it.’’
With Daniel Nava healthy and Ryan Kalish on the scene, the Sox do not need Gonzalez to play right field, another factor that worked against Youkilis.
“We’ll take it day by day. If I had my druthers, [Gonzalez] would stay at first,’’ Valentine said. “The reason he didn’t, it was because of necessity.’’
The 23-year-old Middlebrooks drove in four runs against the Miami Marlins on Thursday in a 6-5 victory. He said afterward that Youkilis has been instrumental in helping him adjust to the majors.
“He’s been awesome,’’ said Middlebrooks, who scored the Sox’ only run Friday night after an eighth-inning double. “He’s helped me out so much, man - not just baseball, but off the field, how to handle everything.’’
Through Thursday, Middlebrooks led American League rookies with 31 RBIs. The last American League player with 31 RBIs through his first 38 major league games was Shane Spencer of the Yankees in 1998-99.
The last Red Sox player to do that was Walt Dropo, who accomplished it in 1949-50.
Carl Crawford will be the designated hitter for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox on Saturday morning against the Twins in Fort Myers, Fla.
It will be the first game of Crawford’s minor league rehabilitation assignment. The left fielder has been on the disabled list all season recovering from surgery on his left wrist and, subsequently, a partially torn ligament in his left elbow.
Rehab assignments for position players last 20 days, putting Crawford back in the majors right after the All-Star break.
Crawford’s first game with the Sox could be July 13 at Tampa Bay. Crawford spent nine years with the Rays before signing a seven-year, $142 million deal with Boston before the 2011 season.
Valentine said Crawford would need approximately the same number of at-bats he would get in spring training to get ready. That’s around 45.
“At least, I would think,’’ Valentine said. “His health will determine a lot of his progress. Then it’s also baseball. He has to feel good about playing baseball. That’s what spring training is usually for.’’
Valentine has said for months that he is eager to manage Crawford. But he’s not getting too excited quite yet.
“I want him to be healthy. If he’s healthy, I’ll be happy,’’ Valentine said. “Then I’ll start getting excited after he’s healthy and playing the game of baseball.’’
It will be difficult for Scott Atchison to make the All-Star team. Middle relievers don’t usually attain that kind of notice.
But the 36-year-old righthander is certainly pitching well enough to merit consideration. He has a 1.17 earned run average and 0.89 WHIP in 29 appearances.
Through Thursday, he led the AL with 38 1/3 innings of relief and had pitched at least two innings 10 times.
Atchison threw two scoreless innings to get the victory on Thursday, and has thrown 6 2/3 scoreless innings in his last six appearances.
“I think he’ll get mentioned. I think he should get attention and mention,’’ Valentine said. “If you hit against him, you’d vote for him. I bet that.’’
Delay of game
The game started 74 minutes late because of rain. Nava stood in the rain for about 30 minutes signing autographs near the dugout . . . Outfielder Jason Repko, who appeared in five games in April, was activated off the disabled list and outrighted to Triple A Pawtucket . . . Double A reliever Marco Duarte was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for amphetamine use. Duarte, 25, is in his first year in the organization after being obtained from the Astros in December as part of a Rule 5 draft trade. He had a 2.12 earned run average in 15 appearances for Single A Salem and Double A Portland . . . Eddie Palladino, the public address announcer for the Celtics, was behind the microphone for the game at Fenway . . . Shortstop Jose Iglesias, who hasn’t played for Pawtucket since May 25 because of a back injury, started a rehab assignment with short-season Single A Lowell and was 2 for 3 with a walk . . . Roger Clemens, fresh off being acquitted of perjury charges, was at the game and sat in the Monster Seats. He was shown on the videoboard and received more boos than cheers.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.