Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks is technically on a minor league rehabilitation assignment with Triple A Pawtucket. But he has more to worry about than simply getting healthy.
Manager John Farrell said Wednesday that Middlebrooks would not be activated until he gets into a better groove at the plate. The 24-year-old was hitting .201 with a .642 OPS when he went on the disabled list on May 24 with a back strain.
Over 46 games, Middlebrooks had struck out 54 times and had seven walks.
“Let’s use this as an opportunity to get a little momentum going before he comes back. We’re hopeful that that is sooner rather than later,” Farrell said.
Middlebrooks is eligible to return on Saturday and that could still happen, Farrell said. But teams can keep position players on rehab assignments for 20 days.
By opening the door to an extended rehab period, the Red Sox can ride the hot streak of Jose Iglesias. After going 1 for 3 in Wednesday’s loss to Texas, Iglesias is 17 of 41 (.415) with five extra-base hits and six RBIs since replacing Middlebrooks at third base.
But over the long term, the Red Sox will appear to need Middlebrooks’s righthanded power to balance their lineup.
“He’s a vital part of that and want to be sure he’s got some momentum coming back to us,” Farrell said.
Middlebrooks will not necessarily be evaluated on statistics. It’ll be more his approach and showing the ability to drive the ball the other way.
“That’s when he’s at his best,” Farrell said. “He’ll tell us when he’s ready by his actions.”
Middlebooks certainly seems motivated. He was 2 for 3 with a walk, a home run, and five RBIs for Pawtucket against Charlotte on Wednesday. He played seven innings at third.
Middlebrooks has been slow to make adjustments this season based on the frequency with which he has swung at pitches outside the strike zone.
“The experience is invaluable. The game inside the lines is the greatest teacher we have,” Farrell said.
Ellsbury out again
Jacoby Ellsbury was originally in the lineup last Friday, the first day of the series against the Yankees. Then he was taken out because of a strained left groin.
Farrell said at the time that Ellsbury was day to day. The center fielder said he was “playing it safe” and hoped to play the next day.
Five games and six days later, Ellsbury has yet to return to the lineup. Jackie Bradley Jr. was back in center field against the Rangers Wednesday night.
“Still unavailable,” Farrell said. “He went out and did some more ground-based activities with running. We’ve got to get him to the point of being 80 percent or better intensity level before we can consider putting him back in the lineup.”
If Ellsbury is out for seven or eight days, the Red Sox would consider placing him on the disabled list retroactive to Friday. Ellsbury did not speak to reporters but indicated to a team official he is confident of playing Thursday.
“Right now we’re still not thinking about putting him on the DL, but if this continues, obviously, we’ve got to get to that point,” Farrell said.
Farrell agreed with the idea that Ellsbury has been slower to return than expected. “Yet in the interest of him and his health, until he’s ready to go we can’t push it,” Farrell said.
How close Ellsbury is to returning is apparently undetermined.
“He’s not at 80 percent,” Farrell said. “I can’t give you an exact number but he’s not quite there yet.”
Shane Victorino will join Middlebrooks in Pawtucket on Thursday for a rehab assignment expected to last at least three games. He has been on the DL since May 21 with back and hamstring issues.
Victorino would play right field on Thursday, then DH on Friday, before going back to the outfield on Saturday.
Farrell said the Sox plan to give Victorino frequent days off once he returns to manage his injuries.
Draft day is here
The three-day amateur draft starts Thursday with the first two rounds. The Red Sox pick seventh and 45th.
General manager Ben Cherington and scouting director Amiel Sawdaye looked a bit haggard during a meeting with reporters. Cherington said team officials have spent 18 hours a day in their draft room for a week ranking players. “And eating bad food,” he said.
The Sox have their highest pick since picking Trot Nixon seventh in 1993. Projecting their pick is difficult, but the Sox have been linked to outfielders Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows, who attend different high schools in Loganville, Ga.
The Sox have a bonus pool of $6,830,200 for their 10 picks. How teams manage that cap has become part of the strategy of the draft. But Sawdaye said his intent was to select the best talent regardless of price.
“I’ve always thought you’ve got to take the best player,” he said. “That’s the way I’ve been taught. That’s That’s the way we’ve tried to proceed here in the last 10-15 years. That’s the way I think we’ll continue to move.”
It is not a particularly deep pool of prospects in New England. The best prospect is outfielder Thomas Milone of Monroe, Conn. Lefthander Steven Hathaway of Franklin Pierce in New Hampshire also has attracted scouts. Northeastern outfielder Aaron Barbosa is considered the top prospect in Massachusetts by Baseball America.
Remy still out
NESN analyst Jerry Remy has not called a game since May 26 and is not expected to return until next week, at the earliest. Remy said last week he was out because of allergies. On Wednesday he wrote on Twitter, “I’ve caught a little pneumonia and it has to run its course. It’s not due to anything else, hope to be back soon.” Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley is filling in . . . Triple A outfielder Alex Hassan, who has been out all season recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot, has started playing and was assigned to Single A Greenville for rehab . . . Lefthander Franklin Morales is available in the bullpen after starting against the Phillies last Thursday. He could get a start in the day/night doubleheader against the Rays on June 18 . . . The Tufts softball team, which won the NCAA Division 3 championship, was recognized on the field before the game. Assistant coach Kim Miner, who works for the Red Sox as a Fenway ambassador, helped arrange the trip . . . The FBI and the American Football Coaches Association recognized Jonny Gomes for donating $25,000 toward the purchase of 12,500 child identification kits for distribution at Fenway and throughout Boston.