NEW YORK -- Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington touched on a number of topics in a 20-minute conversation in the visitors dugout at Yankee Stadium before Wednesday’s night game, including the team’s desire to have third baseman Will Middlebrooks play winter ball in the offseason.
Middlebrooks, who turns 26 on Tuesday, has had just 289 plate appearances this season, 179 in the major leagues, as he has been hampered by injuries for the third straight season.
Middlebrooks’ promising rookie season in 2012 was cut short when he was hit by a pitch that fractured his right wrist. In 2013, he collided with catcher David Ross, leaving him with a nagging rib cage injury, then had back spasms that put him on the disabled list.
The litany of injuries this season began early. He hyperextended his middle finger in spring training, suffered a strained right calf in April that sent him back to the DL, then fractured his right index finger, leading to an extended rehab assignment in Triple-A Pawtucket.
He returned to the Red Sox on Aug. 1, and has struggled, posting a slash line of .172/.206/.226/.432 with no home runs and seven RBIs. He is 4-for-33 so far on this trip and hitless in his last 15 at-bats, striking out four times and lining out once in Tuesday night’s 9-4 win. Middlebrooks has struck out four times in a game twice in his career, both times coming in an eight-day span. He whiffed four times in six at-bats last Tuesday in Toronto.
Cherington said he has spoken with Middlebrooks about playing winter ball, as he has with several other players, “but nothing has been solidified.”
Valued by the Red Sox for his power, Middlebrooks has not hit a home run in the big leagues since April 26 at Toronto, a span of 145 at-bats. Only Brock Holt has gone more at-bats (183) without a home run, though his last came on July 13.
“Sure it’s frustrating for him,” Cherington said. “It’s frustrating for us to some degree because we know he has the talent to perform, the physical tools to do that. It hasn’t happened. He’s got to find himself as a major league hitter. We believe he will at some point.”
Other matters of note touched on by Cherington:
• Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo will remain with Double-A Portland for the balance of their semifinal playoff series against Binghamton, which opened Wednesday in that New York town. Cherington said the club has not looked beyond the opening series, but reiterated that Castillo could remain with Portland or Pawtucket as long as one is alive in the postseason.
Castillo is not eligible to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic unless he receives clearance from U.S. Customs and Immigration. If that is not forthcoming, he will play in either Puerto Rico (a U.S. territory) or the Arizona Fall League.
• Left-hander Henry Owens, recently voted Eastern League pitcher of the year and now in the playoffs for Pawtucket, is unlikely to pitch in the big leagues this month.
“He’s had a very full season, a very good season, now with a number of Triple-A starts,’’ Cherington said. “He goes into next spring training in a solid position with a number of other young starters who will be in a competitive environment next year. We’re not sure, weighing all the factors, whether it makes sense to move him up [this month].”
• The Sox want to re-sign closer Koji Uehara, who turns 40 just before Opening Day next season. Uehara is eligible for free agency after the season. Cherington called Uehara’s recent struggles an “outlier.”
• Reiterating what manager John Farrell has been saying, Cherington said Mookie Betts will remain in the outfield for the balance of the season, but left open the possibility of a position switch going forward.
“I wouldn’t rule out anything moving forward,” Cherington said. “He’s been an infielder his whole life. We think he can be a good player. He looks like he’ll be plenty good to play out there [in the outfield] if that’s where the opportunity is. But not going to rule anything out.”
There has been no discussion to date, Cherington said, about possibly moving Betts to third base. “I don’t expect that,” Cherington said. “The likelihood is one of the outfield spots.”
• Betts’ impressive big-league debut did not give the club pause about signing Castillo.
“No,” Cherington said, “because we believe we’re better off more than one good major-league center fielder. Hopefully we have, in terms of long-term control, hopefully we have three (Castillo, Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr.) at the upper levels. We’ll figure out a way to incorporate all of them.
“Look, we understand next April there’s nine spots in the lineup and nine people will be in the lineup, and we’ll figure out how it all lines up. We want as many good players as we can and we’re happy that we have a number of guys who could play center field in the major leagues and in our particular ballpark we like having more than one center fielder in the lineup at any one time because of the dimensions.”
• Xander Bogaerts’ future remains at shortstop.
• While Cherington said the hope is that “the bulk” of next year’s rotation comes from within, he reiterated that starting pitching will be a focus of the offseason.
• Bradley will return to the Sox sometime this month.