ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Red Sox roster underwent a significant change Monday that went beyond third baseman Will Middlebrooks being activated from the disabled list.
Jose Iglesias is going nowhere. The 23-year-old Cuban, bitterly disappointed when he was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket back in April, is on the big-league roster for the forseeable future, and in a role that goes beyond being a spare part.
Manager John Farrell said that Iglesias will play at least three times a week on the left side of the infield, which means he’ll be sharing time at third with Middlebrooks and on occasion, perhaps once a week according to Farrell, will spell veteran Stephen Drew at shortstop.
The Red Sox announced just before game time that infielder Pedro Ciriaco, who is not here with the team, has been designated for assignment to make space on the roster for Middlebrooks’ return. Middlebrooks was in Monday’s lineup against Tampa Bay, batting eighth and playing third.
The Sox had come into this season maintaining they preferred that Iglesias play every day rather than keeping him on the bench with the big-league team. But Iglesias’s performance while Middlebrooks was on the DL with a lower back strain obviously altered the club’s thinking.
Iglesias is batting .444 (24 for 54) since his recall May 24, with 5 doubles, 2 home runs and 10 runs scored. He has played superb defense at third base, a position he had never played before at any level until last month, and is a known commodity at short, where there has never been any question that he is a Gold Glove-caliber fielder.
Iglesias’ bat was the issue, and as recently as five weeks ago, when he was benched in Pawtucket for a desultory attitude, questions abounded about whether he would hit. At the time of his recall, he was batting .202 for the PawSox.
But Iglesias has been a different player at this level, with multihit games in seven of his last 10 starts. He is currently on a 13-game hitting streak, the longest by any American League rookie this season.
Iglesias’s performance, especially in light of Middlebrooks’s early-season struggles (.201/.234/.408), made another demotion virtually impossible to justify, especially with the Sox 13-6 since Iglesias was called up.
“I don’t know if it’s forcing a hand,’’ Farrell said Monday. “I think players just tell you what they’re ready for and how productive they can be, to what level they can contribute.
“In this case, we don’t see Jose strictly as a utility guy. He’s got a bright future ahead of him but in this situation we’re in now, he’s going find himself at third, find himself at short, possibly at second on a given day. To have that type of performance -- and a confidence, more than anything in him -- available to us, it makes us better.’’
Middlebrooks returns after a five-game rehab assignment with Pawtucket, in which he posted a slash line of .294/.429/.647. He hit 2 home runs and drew 4 walks.
“Will answered a lot of questions, particularly physical, which were quickly put behind him, and I think [the rehab gave him] a chance to get 15-plus at-bats, to get a little timing, rhythm going,” Farrell said.
“I’ve also mentioned to both he and Jose, we’re going to do everything we can to get [Iglesias] three days a week on the left side of the infield and everyone is aware of that plan going forward.’’
In a perfect world, the Red Sox would like to see Middlebrooks regain the form that made him one of the league’s most impressive rookies last season, when he was the first AL player in 15 seasons to collect at least 15 home runs and drive in 54 or more runs in his first 75 games. But his season was cut short when he was hit by a pitch from Cleveland’s Esmil Rogers on Aug. 10, and this season he went into a deep slump after a three-homer game in Toronto on April 7.
Some skeptics pointed to Middlebrooks’s high strikeout to walk ratio in the minors (452 to 132) to question whether he had developed sufficient plate discipline to succeed at the big-league level. It appears inevitable that Iglesias’s presence could put some pressure on Middlebrooks, who at 24 is a year older than Iglesias and like his Cuban teammate does not lack for confidence.
“Guys recognize this is a pretty deep roster,’’ Farrell said. “Guys have earned the right to get on the field.’’