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ON BASEBALL

Red Sox very much afloat after treading water

Wednesday’s victory over Cincinnati made the Red Sox 17-17 on the season. AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Elise Amendola/AP

Wednesday’s victory over Cincinnati made the Red Sox 17-17 on the season.

Five-hundred? Check.

Over the hump? Still to come.

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Now the question is, can the Red Sox get on a roll with the present constitution of the team? Certain things are needed to trigger this.

One of them happened Wednesday night when Will Middlebrooks stroked a game-winning hit.

The Red Sox need someone other than Mike Napoli to provide righthanded power on a consistent basis, and that’s where they need Middlebrooks. He should eventually exit the bottom of the lineup and enter the middle of the order. When that occurs, the lineup could be potent again.

Too much to ask?

Well, therein lies the rub.

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The Red Sox really don’t have a third base option right now other than Middlebrooks. They could rush Garin Cecchini to the majors, but they feel he still has some defensive development to do. Promoting him now also would be a blow to Middlebrooks, who has spent parts of three years in the majors. It’s his time.

A National League scout recently commented, “I wouldn’t move him out of the lineup if he was hitting .100. You stick with him, let him figure things out, and the reward will be worth it.

“Some hitters have to make three or four adjustments. The light has to go out a few times before it comes on for good, and I think Middlebrooks is one of those guys.”

We live in an impatient world, and this is a city that has seen three baseball championships in 10 years. Struggling isn’t accepted — by the media, the fans, or the organization.

The question is, what’s the proper amount of time, or sample size, to give a prospect?

Red Sox hitting coaches commented that Middlebrooks has had “good at-bats” among his 51 this season. And 51 isn’t a large sample size, as Middlebrooks was on the disabled list.

If he continues to get fooled at the plate and strikes out a lot, that’s a sign that perhaps he’s overmatched and needs more seasoning.

The Red Sox don’t want to turn their championship into player development at the major league level, but on the other hand, they are transitioning young players such as Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts into the lineup, and that leap from Triple A to the majors can sometimes seem like clearing the Grand Canyon.

Young players are tested quickly by major league pitchers, who pound them with the kind of off-speed stuff they don’t see in the minors. Bogaerts commented recently on how many sliders he’s seen. Those, and quick-diving split-fingered pitches, are the ones young players get fooled with.

“They can be patient with the young guys because they have the veteran pitching to sustain it,” said a National League general manager. “Their games aren’t going to get out of hand because their pitching keeps them in it.

“Little by little, as the youngsters get more comfortable, they’ll start producing.”

And the Red Sox’ fortunes this season will be tied into the youngsters because the veterans seem to be shaping up and falling into their normal place. A saving grace is that the Sox seem to have time because of the divisional parity.

All the American League East teams have issues.

The Orioles seem to be the flavor of the week with superstar Manny Machado back after rehabilitating his right knee. They struggled on defense in Machado’s absence.

But slugger Chris Davis is on the disabled list and Matt Wieters has been dealing with a shoulder injury that has kept him from catching. Manager Buck Showalter said that’s not far off.

One of the keys is Ubaldo Jimenez. Notorious for his poor Aprils, Jimenez now has won two in a row after going 5 innings in a win against the Rays on Thursday night.

The Yankees can look really bad, yet they beat the Angels in two straight on the West Coast. They have pitching issues. Michael Pineda has an oblique injury that will sideline him for a month. Ivan Nova is done for the year with Tommy John surgery. CC Sabathia is a shadow of his former self; he, too, is a notoriously slow starter, though this time it may be that his power is gone because of weight loss.

They have a first-class lineup led by Jacoby Ellsbury, and when Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann start to click more consistently, it will be tough to pitch to them. Mark Teixeira’s troublesome right wrist is healthy again, and he is a middle-of-the-order presence.

The Blue Jays and Rays keep hanging around, even though neither have any business doing so given the state of their teams. The Jays have risen to .500 with Mark Buehrle saving the day. Their lineup, though helter-skelter at times, can be difficult to navigate with power hitters Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in the middle. They can look so bad, yet when they’re clicking, they can be so potent.

The Rays are simply trying to survive. They may get Alex Cobb back in June, and that would be a huge boost for a team that’s trying to ride the coattails of Cesar Ramos and Erik Bedard for now.

So here come the Red Sox.

Getting to .500 was a monumental struggle; it took nine attempts.

The fact that they’re playing better at home is a good sign. Fenway seemed like a foreign country for the first month, given the raw, windy conditions most nights.

“I think just getting to an even record finally is an accomplishment,” said catcher A.J. Pierzynski. “We’re even now. The slate is clean. Now we can get after it and start to put some wins together.

“This is a very good team. The guys on it have had a lot of success, but what’s great is that nobody panicked. It was like we’re going to get there.”

As we’ve written many times, the Red Sox have what other teams in the division don’t necessarily have: healthy veteran pitchers. And now the bullpen is beginning to take form, as it did last year.

Lefthander Craig Breslow, who had such a huge role last season, started slowly but seems to have found his form. Andrew Miller has been a lights-out late reliever, throwing in the high 90s with control. Burke Badenhop has filled his role as ground-ball specialist to perfection lately.

Chris Capuano regrouped Wednesday after a couple of shaky outings, and Koji Uehara, as John Farrell said, was more “Koji-like” after a bout with a stiff shoulder and a couple of shaky outings.

So they’ve drawn even. They play the free-falling Rangers Friday night in Arlington, Texas, and face the very talented Yu Darvish right off the bat.

It’ll be the first day of trying to get over the .500 hump. They hope it takes less than nine attempts, or Pierzynski, who told his teammates, “Don’t be afraid to get to .500,” may have to add, “Don’t be afraid to get over the hump.”

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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