BOSTON -- Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said he talked with veteran third baseman Kevin Youkilis on Friday about decreased playing time, and that Youkilis, while not happy about it, understands the decision.
“He doesn’t necessarily totally agree with it and doesn’t wake up in the morning and hope that’s the case, but I think the professional person that Kevin is, he understands it,” Valentine said. “Yes. I think he’s fine.”
For the first time since coming off the disabled list May 22, Youkilis is out of the starting lineup for two straight games. The fact that it comes in the wake of a monster performance by fellow third baseman Will Middlebrooks begs the question: Has there been a concrete shift at third base from the veteran Youkilis to the rookie Middlebrooks?
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine would never say so, choosing to keep the situation fluid. For Friday night’s series opener against Atlanta, he is simply going with the guy who is swinging a good bat, he said.
“Today, I’m riding the hot hand,” Valentine said. “Tomorrow might not be the case. I always reserve the right to change my mind.”
But Valentine did say he had a discussion with Youkilis about the situation and expects his veteran to adjust to any part-time role that emerges.
Middlebrooks hammered a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning Thursday, keying a comeback victory for the Sox over Miami. He had four RBIs in the game and now has 31 in just 38 games since being promoted to Boston. That represents the most RBIs by a Red Sox player in 38 games since Walt Dropo in 1949-50.
Meanwhile, Youkilis is hitting only .174 (8-for-46) with no home runs and 10 strikeouts in June, during which he has been surrounded by trade rumors.
For several days Valentine was able to appease the hot-hitting rookie and the struggling vet, but that was because of a shortage of healthy outfielders, which necessitated Adrian Gonzalez’s move to right field and enabled Youkilis to play first base. With Cody Ross back and Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish contributing, Gonzalez can slide back to first, where he has won three Gold Gloves.
Valentine hinted that the more stable outfield gives him more reason to keep Gonzalez planted at first, which would necessitate a daily decision regarding Youkilis and Middlebrooks.
“We’ll take it day by day, but if I had my druthers he’d stay at first,” Valentine said of Gonzalez. “The reason he didn’t was because of necessity.”
That necessity is not there right now, and with Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury taking steps toward an eventual return, the Sox may actually have a surplus of outfielders at some point. Right now they have a surplus of third basemen, which will create a daily lineup drama until the situation changes.