SARASOTA, Fla. — The Red Sox had Will Middlebrooks shifted to the right side of the infield against the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning Tuesday. When Matt Wieters grounded a ball slowly up the middle, Middlebrooks made two quick decisions.
He wanted to go to second base to keep the double play in order. But to get the ball there, he had to get creative.
Middlebrooks gloved the ball and shoveled it behind him to shortstop Deven Marrero at the base. The Sox got the out and then a double play on the next batter.
Middlebrooks later hit a home run to help the Sox beat the Orioles, 6-5, in a split-squad doubleheader. But his Jose Iglesias-like defensive play was the highlight.
“That goes back to the high school days playing a little shortstop,” Middlebrooks said. “I didn’t even think about it, I just did it.”
In a larger context, the play was a symbol of Middlebrooks’s rebuilt confidence after a poor 2013 season.
“He’s not taken his defense to the plate or vice-versa. He’s responded favorably,” manager John Farrell said. “His work ethic has been outstanding since we’ve come to Florida. He’s putting in the required time and energy on all phases of the game.”
The Red Sox started camp believing Middlebrooks would reclaim a starting position, and that hasn’t changed.
“He’s our third baseman,” Farrell said. “He’s got a profile of skills that you’re not going to find many places. He profiles the position well and it’s our job to continue to have that confidence grow.”
Middlebrooks had a rough day in the field against the Cardinals in a road game March 5 and went 0 for 3. He has played solid defense in the four games he has played since and is 6 for 12 at the plate with three extra-base hits and four RBIs.
Both of his home runs have come against Orioles closer Tommy Hunter.
“I didn’t let one day get me down,” Middlebrooks said. “I’m trying to stay pretty even. That’s watching my teammates. We have guys who are the best at that. Jonny [Gomes] is great. He plays the same way all the time. I just watch those guys.”
The Red Sox had public address announcer Ted Fitzgeorge recite the count after every pitch during a 5-4 loss against Miami at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers.
Executive vice president Charles Steinberg said the unusual idea was a product of “spirited debate” among team officials.
“There were desires for us to try it last year and we didn’t so I think we’re not shy about being experimental or bold or innovative,” he said.
The Red Sox players were generally opposed to the concept.
“That’s a bad idea,” said John Lackey, who started and went 2⅔ innings. “Whoever did that hasn’t been between the lines.
“For me it was not that big a deal because I’m not that worried about throwing strikes. But I could foresee a situation with someone who is just struggling throwing strikes you’re just pretty much beating the guy over the head with it.
“He realized it was a ball. He doesn’t want to hear it again. That’s a bad idea.”
Beyond that, the count is on multiple scoreboards at every major league park.
Steinberg said recounting the count was a one-game trial without a clear second step. He claimed not to know who with the Sox came up with the idea, but said team president Larry Lucchino broached it more than a year ago.
It didn’t sound like the aural addition was coming to Fenway Park, but Steinberg didn’t rule it out.
“If it would be effective in a positive way, then yes,” he said.
Farrell, who wasn’t at that game, carefully chose his words.
“Certainly different in the atmosphere of the ballpark,” he said. “You don’t hear that. Other than that, I really don’t have any comment.”
A start for Lackey
Lackey threw 47 pitches against Miami. He hadn’t taken a major league mound since he pitched the clinching game of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals Oct. 30.
The Marlins dented Lackey, who was fine-tuning his fastball, for three runs on four hits. There were a few other loud outs, but Lackey was focused on the process, not the results. He proclaimed his first start a success, saying the goal was to build arm strength.
“It was a good place to start,” said Lackey, who struck out two and didn’t allow a walk. “I pretty much threw all fastballs the first two innings. I tried to work on a few other things in the third inning.
“I got a little tired. I’ll probably be a little sore tomorrow. It’s just a little step up in intensity but a good place to start.”
Lackey allowed all three runs in the third inning. The first three batters reached via hits, the last of which was Donovan Solano’s run-scoring single to left. The veteran righthander departed after a Marcell Ozuna sacrifice fly to center field with runners on second and third made it 2-0.
Andrew Miller came on and surrendered an RBI single to Derek Dietrich, charging Lackey with the third run.
Like Jon Lester, the Sox pushed back Lackey, just a season removed from returning from Tommy John surgery on his elbow, a bit from the traditional spring training timeline as a preventative measure.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Lackey. “We were pretty deep into the season last year, had a pretty good workload. I think with the veteran guys we have I think it will work out good for us. We kind of know what we need to do to get ready.”
Jake Peavy no longer has a wrap on his left index finger and is ready to pitch his first game Thursday against the Twins at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
Peavy, who injured himself with a fishing knife, had his stitches removed Sunday, and the wound is healing. He will need some extra padding in his glove.
“We fully expect him to be on the mound Thursday,” Farrell said. “You might see him use a little bit different glove, a bigger glove, to give him more webbing to catch the ball with.”
Peavy is scheduled to throw three innings against the Twins.
Day off for most
The Sox have their only scheduled day off of spring training Wednesday. But lefthander Felix Doubront will stay on turn in the rotation by pitching in a minor league game at Fenway South at 1 p.m. Dan Butler will catch him. Lefthander Rich Hill will throw live batting practice, his final step before getting into a game . . . Farrell said right fielder Shane Victorino would get some games in center field during spring training in case he is needed there.