PAWTUCKET â Will Middlebrooks can relate to Daniel Nava.
A year ago, Middlebrooks scuffled so badly that the Red Sox were left with little choice but to send the starting third baseman to Triple A. Looking back at his minor-league penance, Middlebrooks says that he was able to weather a turbulent stretch thanks to his ability to quickly put the grief behind him.
âIt's a fine line of pressing and coming down here and working hard and trying to get your work in. It took me a good week to get over the disappointment of it,â said Middlebrooks prior to his second rehab game with the PawSox.
As for Nava, who on Wednesday was jettisoned to Pawtucket, Middlebrooks offered the following: âHe's a good player. You hate to see that happen to anybody. If there's any advice, it's just to stay as even-keeled as you can and come down here and get your work and get back to the player he is, the player everyone knows he is.â
In order to restore the borderline All-Star luster that defined Navaâs breakout 2013 campaign and make Red Sox fans forget that heâs off to a .149 start at the plate, the outfielder/first baseman will first have to come to grips with his new reality.
"It is low pressure, but at the same time, it's almost more pressure to a player, trying to get back to the big leagues. Down here, the conditions are different, just everyday life is different here than in the big leagues,â Middlebrooks pointed out. âWhen you've been in the big leagues for the last two years, it's something you have to adapt to -- bus rides. It's harder to take care of yourself. There's less available to you. It's just something you have to adapt to and get through and just grind through it and focus on your play and do what you can to get back."
Without saying it directly, Middlebrooks basically told a small group of reporters to cut Nava some slack and remember that this is the same player who last season finished second on the Red Sox in on-base percentage (.385).
"A lot plays into it, a lot that people don't know, that's not in the media. There's a lot that goes into it,â Middlebrooks pointed out. âYou don't just lose talent. You don't just forget how to play. âNavâ is one of the better hitters in this organization. He'll be fine. It's not mechanical or anything like that. He just wasn't getting hits. It's part of baseball. It just happens, unfortunately.
âYou want to be in the big leagues, but at the same time, you don't want to be there and struggle and not help your team because they're there to win and you want to help your team win in any way possible. It's frustrating. I understand that. I've been through it,â Middlebrooks continued. âHe's a good player. He's going to land on his feet and be fine. It's just been three weeks. It's a really small sample size. He'll be just fine.â
Nava did not report to Pawtucket on Wednesday. With Thursday being a noontime game, thereâs an outside possibility that the switch hitter may not join the PawSox until Friday.
When Nava does come to Pawtucket, he will be reunited with hitting coach Dave Joppie, who worked with Nava during the 2009 season in Double-A Portland.
âJust knowing Daniel and his character, heâs going to be ready to go. Heâs going to turn the page and get focused on what he needs to do here,â said PawSox manager Kevin Boles. âObviously thereâs disappointment on his end, but you need to turn the page and you have to move forward. I know that Daniel will do that. Heâs a hard worker and a very talented player. Weâll do everything we can to be here for him.â
Even for a ballplayer whoâs accustomed to living a nomadic professional life, there comes a time when the merry-go-round act wears on you.
Ryan Roberts could have elected to become a free agent when the Red Sox designated him for assignment last week, but the 33-year-old chose to stay put and accept his assignment to Pawtucket. Had he opted to test the waters, Roberts would have been staring at the possibility of hooking on with his third team in roughly a monthâs time.
Roberts made his PawSoxâ debut Wednesday night, batting second and playing second base.
âNot having a job, Iâm sitting and thinking to myself, âWhat am I going to do if it gets to point where people donât want to sign me at all?ââ said Roberts. âA lot of thoughts go through your mind, but (Boston) gave me the opportunity to come down here and play. I cleared waivers and weâll see what happens.â
Roberts has spent time in the major leagues with Toronto, Texas, Arizona and Boston. The Texas native was released by the Chicago Cubs at the end of spring training. He wasnât idle for long as the Red Sox signed him after Middlebrooks landed on the disabled list on April 6.
The frequent starts and stops may have attributed to Robertsâ struggles while with Boston (2-for-19 in eight games).
âWeâll find out,â said Roberts when asked if regular playing time represented the perfect cure-all. âIf I knew all that, I would travel around and help dudes out. Iâve had times when I havenât played and come in and got three hits. Baseball is a funny game and sometimes, all the stars align. All you need is a that little push of momentum that gets you going.â
Roberts was asked if he envisions seeing time at shortstop for the PawSox. After Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox appear to be woefully thin in terms of adequate shortstop solutions in the event something happens to the 21-year-old rookie.
âIâm open to play anywhere. When I had my meeting with (Boles), I told him that I would play anywhere he wanted me to. Iâm just here to play baseball, thatâs it,â said Roberts.
Boles confirmed that prized pitching prospect Matt Barnes will make his 2014 debut this Friday at McCoy against Rochester. The Red Sox elected to bring Barnes along slowly after the Connecticut native was felled by shoulder soreness during spring training.
âHeâs good to go. (The pitch count) has not been decided yet, but I would assume it would be around five innings, 75 pitches,â Boles relayed.
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