Will Middlebrooks was summoned into manager John Farrell’s office around noon Tuesday to hear news that, judging by his body language in recent games, he could sense was coming.
He had watched five of the past six Red Sox games from the dugout, sinking in a sea of inconsistency at the plate.
Meanwhile, Jose Iglesias was making it impossible for Farrell to keep him out of the lineup. It had become clear to Farrell that even though he still envisioned Middlebrooks as an important part of the Red Sox’ future, they currently are a better team with Iglesias in the lineup.
So with Farrell acknowledging that Iglesias had earned the job as the everyday third baseman, the Red Sox optioned Middlebrooks to Triple A Pawtucket. And there is no timetable for his return, no performance-based list that Middlebrooks can check off to ensure that he comes back up.
The only goal is to get Middlebrooks the consistent at-bats that hopefully will allow him to rediscover the swing that made him a .288 hitter a season ago.
“First of all, his skills haven’t gone backwards,” Farrell said. “He’s still a very talented player. The consistent work will allow him to reproduce the swing that he showed last year and showed throughout the course of spring training, recognizing that this year there were some struggles for him.”
It was just a year ago Monday that the Sox traded Kevin Youkilis to make room for Middlebrooks, who has hit .192 with 9 home runs and 25 RBIs this season.
“This isn’t uncommon for a young player, and to take a step back now for the bigger picture, he’s finding his way to becoming a major league player and part of that sometimes takes a step back and this is exactly what’s taking place,” said Farrell.
Middlebrooks was scheduled to be in the PawSox lineup Wednesday against the Toledo Mud Hens.
“This became about Will getting regular at-bats,” Farrell continued. “He’s an important part of us today, as he is going forward, and for him to get back on track, to make an impact with us, he needs everyday at-bats, and that’s where he’s headed right now.”
When Middlebrooks was sent to Pawtucket June 4, it was thought to be a rehab assignment for a low back strain that sent him to the 15-day disabled list May 24. But Farrell said Middlebrooks would remain there to work himself out of a slump in which he went 7 for 42 in 11 games.
He was called back up June 10, but by then Iglesias had started to stake his territory at third. Farrell’s plan was to have Iglesias play three to four games a week, some at third and some at short. But it was hard to keep a player who entered Tuesday night’s game hitting .426 out of the lineup.
“You hope that both players, provided the opportunity they do get, that they perform well,” Farrell said. “Competition is going to reveal maybe one guy is better than another, and you can’t deny the fact that we’ve got a guy that’s getting multiple hits a game for a period of time, and for the short run, he’s our third baseman.”
Middlebrooks went 4 for 29 after coming back up to the big club, including an 0 for 4 in the series opener Thursday night against the Tigers in Detroit.
“Every player’s going to go through ebbs and flows with confidence,” Farrell said. “While he would get on some short stretches where he’d dominate some games from an offensive standpoint, there were a number of games where things were on the flip side of that.
“[This is], we think, the best thing for Will and ultimately the best thing for all of us.”
To fill the roster spot, the Red Sox purchased the contract of third baseman Brandon Snyder from Pawtucket.
A callup was the last thing on Snyder’s mind after he went 2 for 14 over three games in Toledo.
“I was talking to my wife today about it and I was like, ‘Man, that was a really bad one. I’m just happy to be home,’ ” Snyder said.
His phone rang, and when he realized it was PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina, he was bracing for bad news.
“My heart kind of sank,” he said.
But Snyder was told he was heading up.
“It was obviously a good feeling,” Snyder said. “God works in mysterious ways. Definitely, this is probably the craziest one so far.”
While middle infielder Brock Holt might have seemed like a deserving candidate, Farrell said he wanted a righthanded bat and someone who had been in a temporary role before. Having been in the same spot before with Baltimore and Texas, Snyder understands his job and knows better than to try to amplify it.
“It’s more or less me trying to fill that little role here or there,” Snyder said. “It’s not trying to look at the big picture, just trying to fill in when they need it. Obviously, they’ve got a good thing going, they’ve got a lot of guys who have big roles, and I’m just trying to fill in when they need somebody.”
When Middlebrooks was in Pawtucket for the first time this season, he had the locker next to Snyder’s. Early in the month, on a trip to Syracuse, they got a chance to talk over lunch.
“I know that he just needs to be able to play every day,” Snyder said. “I think once he does that, he’ll be able to prove himself and he’ll be back before you know it.”