Gonzalez at first; Middlebrooks to bench

BOSTON -- After playing a total of four games in right field during the Red Sox’s recent road trip, Adrian Gonzalez is back at first base Friday night as Boston begins a seven-game homestand against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Kevin Youkilis is back at third base and rookie Will Middlebrooks has the night off. Manager Bobby Valentine said Middlebrooks will start at third on Saturday, which means Youkilis could be back at first and Gonzalez would be back in right field.

“Oh, there’s a chance of that happening,” Valentine said. “But you never know what’s going to happen between now and then, so we’ll see what happens.”

The idea of Gonzalez playing right field initially came about because of interleague play, but Valentine decided to keep it going against the Baltimore Orioles when Youkilis was activated off the disabled list, with Gonzalez starting the last two games in right. The manager said earlier in the week he would have some hesitation playing Gonzalez in right field at Fenway because of the ground he would have to cover, including all the nooks and crannies along the wall.

“Some people have had the hesitation and I’m not sure how to read it,” Valentine said. “I think he positions himself extremely well and he gets a very good jump on the ball. Does that make up for some of the foot speed? I’m not sure. All I know, so far, when the ball’s hit we do a pretty good job of retrieving it and the opportunities he’s had leads me to believe that he can catch it if he can get to it.”

Since his promotion from Triple-A Pawtucket on May 2, Middlebrooks is hitting .296 with five homers and 17 RBIs. With Youkilis healthy and back in the lineup, Valentine has thought of different ways to keep Middlebrooks in there too.

“I keep asking if there’s another position and I keep hearing ‘no’ so other than DH I’m not sure what that would be,” Valentine said. “We have experimented with some things though, so I wouldn’t say it’s out of the realm of possibility, but it hasn’t been discussed.”

Valentine has not talked to Middlebrooks about the possibility of playing a different position.

“No,” the manager said. “Trying not to confuse the matter. If I thought there was a situation that I would need to see then I think that conversation would go, but right now I’m trying to make sure a young player is concentrating on what he should be concentrating on. He’s doing a pretty good job of that.”

A few other notes, with an emphasis on the walking wounded:

*Outfielder Darnell McDonald (oblique strain) will play five innings for Triple-A Pawtucket, then have Saturday off.

*Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka will start for the PawSox on Saturday at McCoy Stadium. Asked how many pitches Matsuzaka would throw, Valentine said “less than 90, maybe that 75 plateau.”

*Reliever Andrew Bailey (thumb) has begun his throwing program. “He’s feeling good and progressing nicely,” Valentine said.

*Outfielder Carl Crawford (elbow/wrist) was examined Friday afternoon and if he’s given clearance, he will begin to start swinging a bat. However, he’s still not allowed to throw.

*Outfielder Cody Ross visited with Valentine Friday afternoon and told the manager his foot “feels great” and “in his mind it shouldn’t be much more than the disabled list that he’s on” before he's able to return. Ross, who has been sporting a removable walking boot, was walking around the clubhouse without it.

*Boston Bruins public address announcer Jim Martin is working Friday's game at Fenway Park. There’s no truth to the rumor he’ll yell “wooooo” every time the Sox score a run. He’s been with the Bruins for 19 years. He called PawSox games for years, including a few during Futures at Fenway, but this will be his first Red Sox game. He also called the Winter Classic game here.