Middlebrooks not looking over shoulder

Will Middlebrooks has been scuffling, finding himself losing playing time to the red-hot Jose Iglesias. Getty Images

Red Sox manager John Farrell had every intention of playing Will Middlebrooks in the first two games of the four-game series with the Detroit Tigers this past weekend.

Plans changed.

Middlebrooks played in the opener, then sat and watched the final three games of the series, which is what the infielder has been doing a lot lately.

He’s lost playing time to the red-hot Jose Iglesias.

“I understand the circumstances and I understand how well Jose is playing, and like I’ve said before I’m happy for him,” Middlebrooks said. “He’s worked hard to get where he is. He’s deserved everything he’s getting right now. I’m not going to be mad, I’m not going to be jealous, he’s my teammate and I’m happy for him.

“Am I disappointed in myself? Absolutely, because that’s what I can control. I can control how hard I work and what I do to perform. That’s something I have to change up in myself.”

Middlebrooks is struggling badly at the plate, hitting just .192 with a .228 on-base percentage. Both numbers are the worst among everyday third basemen in the majors.

“I’m frustrated,” Middlebrooks said. “Anybody would be frustrated. Not because he’s playing well, but because I didn’t perform and I didn’t do my part. The last 15 to 20 games I felt like I’ve gotten myself in good counts, I’ll fly out, ground out or line out. That’s part of the game. You can’t control what happens when it leaves the bat.”

Middlebrooks went through a similar situation last season, but he’s viewing things on the other side now.

Middlebrooks was promoted from Pawtucket last season to fill in for an injured Kevin Youkilis and made his presence felt instantly.

The right-handed hitter smacked a grand slam in just his third major league game. He followed that up the next night with two homers and had five RBIs. In his first four games in the majors he had six extra-base hits and drove in nine runs, becoming the first major leaguer to reach those numbers to begin a career.

His emergence led the Red Sox to trade Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox.

“That’s how the game is,” Middlebrooks said. “All I can do is bust my ass to get back where it was.”

Since June 10, after a short stint on the disabled list because of a lower-back inflammation, he’s appeared in seven of Boston’s 14 games.

“We went from if Iglesias stays how many days a week can he play and still maintain his development and now we’re flipping that with Will,” Farrell said. “If there comes a point where we feel he’s not getting enough reps then [sending him down] comes into the discussion a little more. But that’s not in it right now.

“It’s hard not to look at two or three hits every night being two or three hits every night,” Farrell continued. “I don’t know if we fully expect him to be hitting .430 by Sept. 15, but he’s playing with a lot of confidence and doing a heck of a job for us. Right now he makes us a better team when he’s on the field, and he’s on the field.”

Farrell, however, isn’t ready to give up on Middlebrooks. Not by a long shot.

“[Will] recognizes that Iggy has done an outstanding job, and he feels he’s a good player,” Farrell said. “He’s one of us. It’s not like this is a guy who’s lost his job and he’s out of favor by any means. He’s still an important part of us today and going forward. He’s a talented young player who has half a year of really good production under his belt, and it’s been a little bit of a struggle for him this year.

“In the short run, this is the situation we’re dealing with. We look at it collectively, it’s all our responsibility: including Will as much as anyone in this is to be as productive as possible. And if that opportunity is here is elsewhere, then his production and play will have as big an impact on anything we do.”

When Middlebrooks gets in the lineup at third base, Iglesias can shift over to shortstop to spell Stephen Drew.

“I’ve really learned how to watch a baseball game,” Middlebrooks said. “I started doing that last year. I play situations in my head as the game’s going on because you never know when someone’s going to get hit by a pitch, or take a bad hop, roll an ankle, then I could be in there. And if that mental switch isn’t on you’re not going to help your team. You have to stay focused on the bench.”

Iglesias was disappointed in his demotion to Triple-A Pawtucket in April but since being recalled has made the best of it and then some.

He had 43 hits in his first 100 at-bats of the season, becoming the first rookie to do so since Tony Oliva did it in 1964.

“He’s always viewed himself as a guy that should be playing here, regardless of the performance, which you admire because that means self-confidence, but at the same time it maybe wasn’t warranted,” Farrell said. “He’s always viewed himself as being able to perform on this stage and he’s doing it and he’s doing it with freedom of mind because he does believe he belongs here.”

On Sunday, Iglesias reached base for a 26th consecutive game when he was hit by a pitch in the second inning.

“We were open-minded to [how long Iglesias would stay], and as well as he played and as frequent as the performance dictated, we’re not going to stunt this,” Farrell said. “That’s the beauty of sports, that’s the beauty of this. It’s open for competition, and that’s where we are today.”

In 33 games, Iglesias is batting .426.

“We’ve got that internal competition that we’re responding to,” Farrell said.