Instead, they are gambling that Drew won’t need a full two weeks to recover from a strained right hamstring and they can muddle through in the meantime with minor league replacements, including Jonathan Diaz, who was called up Saturday from Triple-A Pawtucket to play third base. He will make his major league debut at age 28.
Major league roster rules stipulate that when a player is optioned to the minor leagues, he must remain there for a minimum of 10 days before being recalled, unless another player is placed on the DL (or a few other lists, such as the bereavement list, paternity list or restricted list). That’s the only way Middlebrooks, who was optioned to Pawtucket on Tuesday, could have come back on Saturday. The first day Middlebrooks is eligible to be recalled from the minors without a DL move involved is next Friday, when the Red Sox open a 10-game West Coast swing in Los Angeles against the Angels.
Instead, the Sox decided to subtract Clayton Mortensen from the 40-man roster, designating him for assignment, and bring up Diaz, who was not on the roster. That means they have 10 days to either trade, release or outright Mortensen before placing him on waivers. Mortensen was out of options, so they could not just demote him to the minors. They could have optioned reliever Alex Wilson, but manager John Farrell said the decision to DFA Mortensen was “performance related.’’
Mortensen hasn’t pitched since June 10, when the Sox bought themselves some time by placing him on the DL with a right groin strain. He was activated Wednesday, but had not been used in the last three games. Overall, Mortensen was 1-2 with a 5.34 ERA in 24 appearances.
He also has pitched for the Cardinals, Athletics and Rockies, so it’s possible another club will claim him on waivers if the Sox don’t trade him first.
“I just drew the short end of the stick on this one,’’ Mortensen said. “I’m not too happy to leave, but I understand its part of the game and I get it. Life goes on and we’ll see where it lands me. So we’ll see what happens over the next few days.”
He said he “absolutely” would be open to staying with the organization.
“They know what I can do,’’ he said, “and I mean being in Triple-A is not going to be a horrible thing. It’s a place I know, a place I pitched before so I mean whatever happens, happens.
“One way or another, hopefully I’m just back out playing again somewhere, whether it be here or somewhere else. I’m kind of upset to leave this time just because I know this team is special and doing something great this year. So I’m just glad I was able to be a part of it for the time I was. Now I’m just happy to be healthy again and I feel confident and feel good to go out and pitch. So we’ll just see where that goes.’’
Drew strained his right hamstring while running out a double in the fourth inning Friday night. He said he felt it grab when he accelerated at first base.
Farrell said the team isn’t ruling out the possibility Drew eventually will need to go on the DL, but is taking the same approach it has with Shane Victorino, going day to day in hopes that he’ll be back before what would be the midway point of a DL assignment.
“We don’t feel like it will get to the midway point,’’ Farrell said. “I say that today. Our initial read is that it’s slightly improved. There is less swelling. We got him on a treadmill to walk, so he is responding favorably to treatment. And range of motion has been initiated.’’
Diaz, who went to the same Miami high school as former Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell (Coral Gables High), is well known to Farrell and coaches Brian Butterfield and Torey Lovullo, having been drafted by the Blue Jays in 2006 and progressing through the Toronto farm system while Farrell was in Toronto. He was a non-roster invitee to Sox major-league camp this season.
Primarily a middle infielder, Diaz has played a handful of games at third base, including 12 this season for the PawSox. He was batting .242 with 12 extra-base hits this season, and has a .357 on-base percentage over his minor-league career.
The Sox elected to start Diaz ahead of Brandon Snyder, who was called up Tuesday and filled in after Drew was hurt Friday (Jose Iglesias shifting from third to short) because he has better range defensively, Farrell said.
“He’s a smart player,’’ Farrell said. “He knows what the expectations are from us. He’s familiar with us, and we’re confident he’ll do a good job for us.’’
How long will Diaz be here? That depends in great part on Drew, of course, but another infield option is Brock Holt, who comes off the DL in Pawtucket on Monday after being out with a strained oblique.
ESPNBoston.com contributor Kyle Brasseur contributed to this story.