Commentary

Red Sox snapping out of it

Call-ups Will Middlebrooks, Daniel Nava providing much-needed jolt

Updated: May 14, 2012, 9:11 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- There comes a point when eventually something makes sense.

That seems to be the case right now for the Boston Red Sox. In the midst of a three-game winning streak, their first such streak since a season-high six straight wins from April 23-28, the team appears to have things under control, at least for the time being.

Yes, the Red Sox remain in the cellar of the AL East, and it's only three consecutive wins in the middle of May, but when a team and an organization go through as many changes as this one has since the end of last season, there has to come a time when the environment seems normal again.

[+] EnlargeMiddlebrooks
Elsa/Getty ImagesWill Middlebrooks, who homered Sunday, has nine extra-base hits and 13 RBIs in his first 10 major league games.

Prior to Sunday's 12-1 win over the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said there are still some players, mostly pitchers, who are not "battle tested" yet. Those kinds of things often have a way of fixing themselves, and a three-game winning streak is evidence of that.

Boston has received solid starting pitching the past three days with wins by Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard. The bullpen has been nearly perfect the past two games and the offense is finally starting to find some consistency.

"It's very encouraging, especially at home because there were some questions after [Thursday's 8-3 loss] that we'll never play well at home again," Valentine said. "Then there was a mental state that we couldn't break through and la-de-da-de-da-de-da. When you see the guys in the clubhouse, there's a good thing forming and that's good."

The team has had some wild swings, both good and bad, already this season. The Sox are starting to level off and appear to have figured some things out. The clubhouse has been loose and jovial the past few days. There seems to be a sense of normalcy.

"I think we've had a good thing most of the year," Valentine said. "It was just frustrating because we would get so close and it would slip away and now we're just banging the door down and not letting the door shut the last couple of games. It's been really good."

In Valentine's mind, there's a reason it's taken this long for the group to get settled.

"Everything has been so set for so many years, but most teams in most seasons continue to build their team as the season goes on," Valentine said. "They continue to get together. They continue to tweak things, change things and make things better to get to the finish line."

No doubt there have been times -- many times -- this season when things appeared bleak, and being mired in last place doesn't help. Injuries have been an issue. Personal agendas have been an issue.

One thing that has helped, especially of late, has been a youthful spark both on and off the field.

Enter Daniel Nava and Will Middlebrooks.

Both are recent call-ups from Triple-A Pawtucket and both have played well at a time when the Red Sox needed reinforcements.

Middlebrooks, who has started at third base with veteran Kevin Youkilis on the disabled list with a back strain, drilled his fourth home run of the season on Sunday. He has nine extra-base hits and 13 RBIs in his first 10 major league games.

Nava, who was called up on Thursday, is 6-for-10 with five runs, four doubles and four RBIs.

"It's awesome. It really is," Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said of their contributions. "That's going to happen throughout the year when guys get injured, other guys get called up. It's not easy to come to Boston and step in like they've done and do a great job."

"That's our job," Middlebrooks said. "When they bring us up it's them saying, 'Hey, we trust you to come up and help us win.' If we can contribute in any way possible, it feels great."

Once some Red Sox players return from the disabled list, both Middlebrooks and Nava could find themselves back in Pawtucket. Neither is concerned about that scenario because they're focused on the present.

"I'm not letting myself [think that way]," Middlebrooks said. "I'm just going to take it day by day and see what happens."

After Sunday's win, Valentine admitted that Nava wasn't even on his radar during the early part of spring training, but the left-handed-hitting outfielder impressed the new Boston skipper, which led to an encouraging conversation late in camp.

It was exactly what Nava wanted to hear, and when he began the season with the PawSox he had his motivation. At the time of his recall, he was hitting .316 with seven doubles, a triple, three home runs and 17 RBIs.

In his four starts with the Red Sox, Nava has reached base safely in 12 of 16 plate appearances and has six hits, four RBIs and four walks. He said he's approaching this opportunity with an "I've got nothing left to lose" mentality.

"It's nice to hear any positive feedback, especially from the manager of the Boston Red Sox," Nava said. "I just tried to digest it the best I can, but at the same time I knew that if I was ever going to get back up here, there was a lot of work that had to be done."

He did it in Pawtucket and now he's doing it in Boston.

"He has played a very good brand of baseball," Valentine said of Nava. "It is what we've needed -- a left-handed hitter who can drive the ball a little and give you a good at-bat, and he's been doing that."

As a group, the Red Sox have played well the past three games. The fans have been frustrated by the rocky start this season. But as we've seen so many times, winning fixes everything, and for the past couple of days it's been friendly Fenway again.

"It's the best place in the world to play," Saltalamacchia said. "Obviously, if we're not playing well [fans] are going to let us know and that's part of the game. A day like today, we put some runs on the board and it was awesome."

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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