BOSTON -- Will Middlebrooks, with one hit in a week and his average dipping closer to .200 again, could have prompted some dreadful memories.
But this isn't the same player who watched his average go from .320 to .182 in a 10-game stretch in April. He's not the same hitter mechanically, and he's certainly not the same player mentally.
Middlebrooks made what could have been a devastating error in Tuesday's 2-1 win over the Tigers. It wasn't an easy play -- a ground ball hit hard off the bat of Brayan Pena that took a tough bounce before hitting Middlebrooks' glove -- but it was a play he usually makes. So in the middle of a slump at the plate, he added a defensive blunder that left Jon Lester pitching out of a bases-loaded jam against the potent Tigers.
But Lester escaped with no harm, and with a chance for redemption the next inning, Middlebrooks showed his poise.
Against Tigers ace Max Scherzer, who entered with a shiny 19-1 record and had been nearly unhittable for four-plus innings, Middlebrooks was smart. He didn't panic. And he came through with the go-ahead, two-run hit.
"It means more than you guys know," Middlebrooks said. "I'm more excited than I'm showing. But I'm already moving on to tomorrow, to be honest, because we have [Rick] Porcello. About to go watch some video on him, get ready for tomorrow."
The old Middlebrooks would have guessed fastball from Scherzer. Scherzer figured that, and Middlebrooks admitted it afterward. But the young third baseman had four previous at-bats against Scherzer in his career, and all four ended with strikeouts.
"I know Middlebrooks," said Scherzer. "I'm thinking about how he's going to approach me in that situation, what pitch I need to execute. … Pena put down slider, and I believed that was the right pitch, because I could see the sequence beyond that, not just the slider first-pitch."
So, too, could Middlebrooks. Fooled already, the 24-year-old was a calm customer. The slider bit hard but caught some of the plate, and Middlebrooks roped it up the middle.
"You find out how a guy's going to come after you," Middlebrooks said. "If I'm getting beat with a fastball in, I'm not going to wait until the next day to go, 'Oh, this team is going to pitch me in.' I'm going into the next at-bat expecting that. Sometimes your approach has to change a little bit. The situation dictates that. The pitcher dictates that. You just have to be able to adapt within an at-bat sometimes."
In 20 games since returning from Triple-A Pawtucket on Aug. 10, Middlebrooks is hitting .323 with five extra-base hits and nine RBIs. He's struck out 17 times but walked nine.
"I know a lot more, and that's credited to all these veterans," he said. "None of these guys gave up on me this year. They're worried about winning -- worried about winning a World Series. It meant a lot to me, when I was going through a hard time, these guys were coming up to me and saying, 'I've been through it, I know what you're going through.'
"When you're in a hole, when you're in a dark place, it's a tough place to struggle, especially on a team like this that comes ready everyday to win. It was nice to have them on my side to help me out."
Ellsbury sits, dealing with sore left thumb
BOSTON -- Jacoby Ellsbury, who has hit .322 since the beginning of June, will likely be dealing with a sore left hand for the rest of the regular season.
Ellsbury aggravated his left thumb when he was jammed on a pitch in Sunday's 7-6 win over the White Sox. He played in Monday's 3-0 loss to the Tigers, but Ellsbury was held out of the lineup on Tuesday.
Manager John Farrell said it will be an ongoing issue for Ellsbury, who hasn't shown any signs of slowing down over the past three months.
"We're hopeful and expect him to play tomorrow, but I don't think it's going to be gone overnight," Farrell said.
Farrell said the day off Tuesday was to try to "get ahead" of the soreness that's developed in the thumb/palm region of Ellsbury's left hand, the top hand that feels the brunt of the contact on an inside pitch for a left-handed hitter. With Farrell's theory, Ellsbury could need routine days off going forward.
"Everyday players at this time of the year are going to be dealing with certain things," Farrell said. "His happens to be in his left hand."
Sore back to keep Salty on bench for a few games
BOSTON -- As he approaches a career high in plate appearances with almost four weeks left to play, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is starting to feel the wear and tear.
Saltalamacchia, who has played in 44 of the team's 55 games since July 1 and 108 of 139 overall, has a sore back and was held out of Tuesday's game against the Tigers.
He is expected to miss the next two or three games.
"Over the past three or four days, it's started to rear its head a little more than some general soreness that guys are dealing with," manager John Farrell said. "Throughout the course of [Monday's] game, it became apparent that he needed a little bit more of a breather."
David Ross, who has played sparingly since returning from a concussion in mid-August, started on Tuesday and will likely handle catching duties until Saltalamacchia returns. The Red Sox also have Ryan Lavarnway on the active roster.
Saltalamacchia is hitless in his last 14 at-bats spanning four games; Farrell noticed the back problems affecting his swing.
"A little bit, yeah," Farrell said. "And the transfer to some of his throws."
Saltalamacchia leads the team in doubles, with 35.
• Clay Buchholz will make his third rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket on Thursday, when the PawSox take on the Rochester Red Wings in the International League's Governors' Cup playoffs. Buchholz's wife, Lindsay, is due to deliver the couple's second child on Wednesday, when Buchholz was originally scheduled to pitch in what is expected to be his last rehab start before rejoining the Red Sox.
• Shane Victorino, hit by a pitch on Monday, has been plunked by a right-hander seven times in 22 games as a right-handed batter. Since abandoning switch-hitting in mid-August to lessen the load on his sore left hamstring, Victorino has been hitting exclusively from the right side.
"He stands about three inches from the plate," Farrell said. "You're probably going to get clipped every now and then."
• David Ortiz is approaching two more milestones. He is two hits shy of 2,000 and would be the 39th player with 2,000 hits, 400 homers and 1,400 RBIs. Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols are the only active players to have accomplished the feat. Ortiz is also one homer shy of 426 for his career, which would tie him with Billy Williams for 47th all-time.
• Daniel Nava walked Tuesday and has reached base safely in 38 straight starts. Nava has the longest active on-base streak in the Majors (as a starter) and the longest by a Red Sox player since Kevin Youkilis set the club record with 44 straight starts in which he reached base safely back in 2008.
• Red Sox pitchers have a 2.41 ERA since Aug. 18, the second-best mark in the Majors behind only the Angels' 2.31.