PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Third baseman Will Middlebrooks had missed the Red Sox’ two previous games, sidelined by a hyperextended right middle finger. He was not in the original lineup that was posted early Sunday morning. But, after arriving at camp and taking some swings in the batting cage to test his finger, Middlebrooks felt good and a revised lineup was posted with his name on it.
But Middlebrooks lasted just two innings in the Red Sox’ 8-4 loss to the Rays on Sunday. He got just one at-bat, striking out against Tampa Bay ace David Price in the second inning. He had a couple of chances in the field, being charged with an error in the first.
Middlebrooks said he did not reinjure his finger, but manager John Farrell took him out for precautionary reasons.
“He still felt a little sore,” Farrell said. “He tried to go today, wanted to get back in there. And yet when he was throwing the ball across the infield in early work [he] kind of felt a little uncomfortable with it. I don’t think there was any drastic increase in soreness, but [he] just didn’t feel quite right and, more precautionary, [we] wanted to get him out of there.”
On the play on which he was charged with an error, Middlebrooks attempted to field James Loney’s slow roller, the ball rolling up his hand.
“That ball hit me on my wrist,” Middlebrooks said. “Didn’t even hit me in the hand. No reaggravation or anything like that. It had nothing to do with that.
“Just wanted to feel things out. For one, I wanted to see Price because we’re going to see him a lot. It was a short day. Got an at-bat, couple of innings of defense. It felt a little sore, so we just cut it a little short.”
Middlebrooks said his injury did not bother him at the plate, either.
“It was all right. I struck out, but he made a good pitch. It had nothing to do with that [injury],” Middlebrooks said.
Struggles for two
Allen Webster and Drake Britton combined to give up eight runs over 5⅔ innings. Webster went four innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on three hits and three walks with three strikeouts. In 12 innings over four outings this spring, Webster, who is likely headed for Triple A Pawtucket, has allowed seven earned runs for a 5.25 ERA.
Farrell, though, was satisfied with Webster’s outing.
“I thought today [he] continues to grow as a pitcher,” Farrell said. “There were some things that happened to him today that are going to happen to him from time to time behind him and I thought he did a great job maintaining his poise, continuing to make pitches, continuing to put the ball on the ground, and keep things from becoming a big inning.”
Webster, Farrell said, has been trying to focus on his two-seam fastball, not on his velocity this spring.
“When he uses the two-seamer and stays in the bottom of the strike zone much more consistently, he’s more efficient,” Farrell said. “And that, in addition to moving to the first-base side of the rubber, it’s allowed him to keep the sinker around the plate with a higher percentage of strikes with his fastball. His last two outings have been very good.”
It was the shortest of Britton’s four outings this spring; he’d gone two innings in each of his previous appearances. In 1⅓ innings he faced 13 batters, giving up five earned runs on six hits and two walks with a strikeout. His spring ERA is 8.22. Farrell cited the five days between appearances.
“I think as he’s converted to the bullpen, the more frequency of usage, the more touch and feel that he has,” Farrell said. “Two-strike pitches were around the plate with maybe the lack of finish that he’s seen before. A lot of opposite-field hits on him.”
“To me he’s turned the corner in the spring and thrown the ball really well,” said catcher David Ross. “Today was just not his day. He wasn’t sharp. He’s had a few days off since he last pitched, so he wasn’t sharp. His slider wasn’t sharp. A couple of times I didn’t do a good job helping those guys. I didn’t help him out.”
Righthander Francisco Cordero pitched a scoreless inning and has not allowed a run in six appearances, spanning six innings with seven strikeouts. A non-roster invitee, Cordero does not have an opt-out clause in his contract, but, according to a team source, the Sox would allow him out if he found a major league opportunity with a team other than an AL East rival . . . Ross was behind the plate for six innings, catching Webster and Britton along with Brayan Villarreal, who pitched a third of an inning. Facing one of baseball’s toughest lefties in Price, Ross went 0 for 3 with a groundout and two fly balls to center. “I think every hitter wants to face the best and gauge where he is against that guy,” Ross said. “I saw the ball pretty well off him today but didn’t have much to show for it. But you know with a guy like that it’s going to be tough so you focus and really want to do your best to hit a Cy Young winner. So I guess it’s good and bad to have to face someone like that when you’re trying to get at-bats and trying to get some timing back at the plate.” . . . Shortstop Deven Marrero, the Sox’ first-round pick in 2012, went 1 for 3 with a ninth-inning homer, his first of the spring, off righthander Juan Sandoval.