PAWTUCKET — The good news coming out of McCoy Stadium on Tuesday night was that Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks kicked off his rehab assignment with the Pawtucket Red Sox on the right foot – with five innings in the field and a 1-for-2 effort at the plate with a walk.
The bad news was that the PawSox fell victim to a pair of rallies by the Charlotte Knights in the fifth and sixth innings and were never able to pick up a clutch hit when they needed one, and as a result, the hosts came out on the losing end of a 5-1 score.
But the story of the night was obviously Middlebrooks, who had been on the disabled list since May 24 with a lower back strain. Middlebrooks is expected to be with the PawSox for their rest of their four-game series against the Knights, and if everything goes well, he is slated to be activated from the DL on Saturday.
Middlebrooks batted third and started at the hot corner, and while the only action he saw in the field was a first-inning popup, he managed to get three at-bats under his belt before exiting the game in favor of Ryan Dent in the sixth inning.
Middlebrooks’ hit was an infield single that shortstop Carlos Sanchez managed to knock down in the hole. He also managed to grab the ball and tried to gun down Middlebrooks, but his off-balanced throw across the diamond was low and too late.
In the third inning, Middlebrooks came back from a 1-2 count to Charlotte starter Andre Rienzo to draw a walk, but in his last at-bat in the fifth, Middlebrooks struck out looking on three pitches.
Nevertheless, that last strikeout wasn’t on Middlebrooks’ mind when he talked to a small group of sportswriters after the seventh inning inside the PawSox’s clubhouse. Putting in a strong, pain-free effort was.
“It felt great,” Middlebrooks said when asked about his back. “I really expected to come here and feel some tightness, but I didn’t feel any and that’s a good sign. Everything felt good. I felt good during BP today, and I felt good timing-wise in the box.
“I’ll be ready to go again tomorrow. I’m going to play seven innings tomorrow and push it a little bit further, and then play nine the next day. We’re going to start ramping it up.”
Middlebrooks, who was batting .201 with eight home runs and 21 RBIs in 46 games with Boston, also spent a few minutes talking about some other subjects, including the superb play of shortstop Jose Iglesias, who has filled in nicely for Middlebrooks at third during his absence.
“He’s a good player,” said Middlebrooks. “We’ve known that for years; it’s just a case of him polishing up as a player. Obviously, he plays good defense. He can play anywhere in the infield – maybe not first – but he’s one of the best defensive guys I’ve been around.
“And he’s really swinging the bat well. I saw the home run he hit off (New York Yankees starting pitcher Hiroki) Kuroda, and that was cool.”
Middlebrooks exited the game with his team down by a 2-0 score, as the Knights broke a scoreless tie in the top of the fifth on a two-run blast to right-center field by leadoff batter Blake Tekotte, who homered for only the second time this season in 134 at-bats.
In the sixth, the Knights scored their other three runs on an RBI double to center by Josh Phegley and run-scoring groundouts by Seth Loman and Angel Sanchez.
Those two innings ruined what was turning into an excellent start by PawSox starter and knuckleballer Steven Wright, who in his first four innings of work, allowed just two hits, struck out five batters, and walked one.
The PawSox avoided the shutout in the bottom of the ninth on a two-out single up the middle by Jeremy Hazelbaker that drove in Jonathan Diaz, who led off the inning with a double to left. Both players each had two hits.
EXTRA BASES: New England Patriots safety Tavon Wilson and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui took in last night’s game, and not only did they throw out the pitch, but they also took some time to sign autographs for fans in the Cox Fan Center. Wilson admitted before the game that this was going to be the first time he ever saw a professional baseball game, while Hoomanawanui said that he’s been to his share of Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals game. … Four former PawSox players are on the Knights’ roster – first baseman/outfielder Lars Anderson, Sanchez (a utility infielder), starting pitcher Zach Stewart, and reliever Tony Pena Jr. … Chris Hernandez will get the start in tonight’s 7:05 p.m. game against the Knights. He will take a 3-2 record and 3.67 ERA into his start against Charlie Leesman, who will make his third start of the season.