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Middlebrooks stays in the zone

8/19/2013
Will Middlebrooks is congratulated after hitting a home run in the fourth inning against the Yankees on Sunday night. Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

BOSTON -- It may have been lost in the shuffle of another certain third baseman’s exploits Sunday night, but Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks provided yet another encouraging sign that his struggles may be behind him in the team’s 9-6 loss to the New York Yankees.

Middlebrooks, who has batted in the ninth spot in all eight games since his return from Triple-A Pawtucket, went 2-for-3 with a double and a home run, his first since June 16, before his demotion. The home run, which came in the fourth inning off Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia, was Middlebrooks’ 10th of the season.

“My first at-bat he threw me all off-speed so I figured he’d try to come in hard,” Middlebrooks said. “I just sat on a heater and got it.”

Middlebrooks credited his recent success to an adjustment in his swing that he made at Pawtucket, allowing him to cover more of the plate and stay back on the ball longer. The change showed in his opposite-field home run into the Sox bullpen, something atypical for the young right-handed hitter.

“They’ve been throwing me a lot of off-speed and I’ve been pulling off some of it,” Middlebrooks said. “The hits I’ve had this series aren’t really like hard-hit balls. Felt good to get a ball out over the plate, let it get deep into my zone and hit it hard.”

Manager John Farrell also noted the adjustment in response to the 24-year-old’s success at the plate.

“He came back to us more squared up in his stance and that’s allowed him to keep the bat through the strike zone with more plate coverage away,” Farrell explained. “He’s more, I think, relaxed. He looks at ease in the box, much different than when he got sent out. He’s come back to us feeling pretty good about himself in the batter’s box.”

Since returning to the big club on Aug. 10 against the Kansas City Royals, Middlebrooks has collected 12 hits in 26 at-bats, good for a .462 average. The third baseman has hit safely in all eight games he has started since being recalled, a season-long streak.

“I’m not fighting against my body anymore,” said Middlebrooks, who was slow to recover from a lower-back strain that caused him to miss 16 games while on the disabled list. “I’m pretty healthy and a lot more healthy than I was. I think that’s the biggest thing.”