An illness, though, has forced the Boston Red Sox manager to make a change on the mound.
Middlebrooks will likely get a chance to continue his stunning surge Sunday as the Red Sox try to cap this series with the Atlanta Braves by winning for the ninth time in 11 games.
Boston's rookie third baseman is hitting .331 with nine homers and 33 RBIs in 40 games since being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket on May 2 after a back injury landed Kevin Youkilis on the disabled list.
Middlebrooks seems to have taken the starting job from Youkilis, who has struggled since being activated and is now the subject of trade rumors.
In the first five games of this homestand, Middlebrooks is 10 for 14 with three homers and nine RBIs. He had three hits, including a homer and a double, to spark Saturday's 8-4 win over the Braves (38-33) after Boston (37-34) dropped the opener of this series 4-1 on Friday.
"You said it," Middlebrooks said when asked if he is letting his bat do the talking as he challenges Youkilis for playing time. "I don't care, to be honest, I came here to play baseball.
"I'm just confident. I feel good right now. I'm in a good groove. It's pretty simple: I'm seeing the ball well."
So well that Valentine doesn't want to mess with a good thing.
"A lot of home run hitters hit them in bunches," Valentine said. "You don't want to take him out of the lineup when he's hot."
That's exactly what Valentine has been forced to do with Clay Buchholz , who will miss his scheduled start because of an illness. The right-hander has won each of his four starts this month behind a 2.40 ERA.
Instead, the Red Sox will activate Aaron Cook (0-1, 20.25 ERA) from the disabled list and give him the ball. The right-hander has been out since suffering a large cut on his left knee while covering the plate on a passed ball during a loss to Baltimore on May 5. That was his Boston debut, and he surrendered seven runs in 2 2-3 innings - mostly after the injury.
Cook, who spent the last 10 seasons with Colorado, has made one rehab start for Pawtucket, allowing three runs and seven hits in four innings Monday.
He's 1-2 with a 5.28 ERA in 10 starts against the Braves, getting pounded for seven runs and 10 hits in losing the most recent matchup July 6.
Despite Saturday's loss, Atlanta has won seven of nine on the road, and Jason Heyward is hitting .429 with four homers and nine RBIs in that stretch. He has four hits and three runs in this series.
The left-hander allowed four runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 6-2 loss, but he's still 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in his last three outings after going 0-3 with a 9.95 ERA in his previous six.
"I feel like every game you can learn something from it," Minor told the Braves' official website Monday after striking out seven Yankees. "I've had my real bad games and I've learned things from that. I can take away good things and reflect on the bad things."
He's never faced the Red Sox, who rank second in the majors behind Texas with 367 runs.
|June 17, 2012||Brandon Beachy||15-Day DL||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
|June 16, 2012||Brandon Beachy||Day-to-Day||Left game - Right elbow soreness|
|June 13, 2012||Freddie Freeman||Day-to-Day||Left thumb discomfort|
|June 12, 2012||Eric O'Flaherty||Day-to-Day||Left elbow soreness|
|June 09, 2012||Tim Hudson||Day-to-Day||Bone spurs in left ankle|
|June 02, 2012||Brian McCann||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised left knee|
|Boston Red Sox|
|June 19, 2012||Dustin Pedroia||Day-to-Day||Left game - right thumb|
|June 18, 2012||Scott Podsednik||15-Day DL||Left groin injury|
|June 17, 2012||Scott Podsednik||Day-to-Day||Left game - left groin discomfort|
|June 17, 2012||Ryan Sweeney||15-Day DL||Toe discomfort|
|June 12, 2012||Josh Beckett||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|June 09, 2012||Rich Hill||15-Day DL||Left elbow strain|
BOSTON (AP) -- Kevin Youkilis ' farewell at Fenway Park on Sunday even was moving for Cody Ross , one of the newest members of the Red Sox.
On the day Youkilis' 8 1/2 years in Boston came to an end, Ross hit two homers and drove in five runs to lift the Red Sox to a 9-4 win over the Atlanta Braves .
Youkilis was traded to the Chicago White Sox for utilityman Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart after the game.
"It brought a tear to my eye, that's for sure," said Ross, in his first season with Boston. "To see him run off and tip his hat, he had some tears in his eyes, I got goosebumps. Special time. I know how much he means to this city. He won two World Series here, played his heart and soul out every day and just a great teammate. He'll be missed."
Before leaving the Red Sox for good,Youkilis was lifted for a pinch-runner after hitting a triple in the seventh inning.
Youkilis was greeted with a hug near the first base line from Nick Punto , who pinch-ran for him, and many of his teammates as he came to the top step of the dugout.
The burely Youkilis was then urged to come out for a curtain call by his teammates, coaches and manager Bobby Valentine before heading down the steps. He was given a lengthy standing ovation and the fans chanted "Yook." The entire dugout looked empty, with everyone standing on the top step and applauding Youkilis.
Valentine thought it was a fitting sendoff.
"It ended the right way," he said. "It was the longest run to the dugout. ... I told the players what I was going to do and he did the rest."
The nameplate above Youkilis' locker was gone when the clubhouse door opened and there was a lineup card there after the Red Sox's the ninth win in 11 games.
The day started with players' kids running around the clubhouse on `Family Day.' About an hour after the game, many of the players were on the field wearing their jerseys with their wives and children.
"We've been friends a long time - 10 years," Punto said. "It was kind of a goodbye."
Youkilis was part of the 2004 and `07 championships.
"It's tough because I know how hard he's played and he's given everything he has in every game he's every put on the Red Sox uniform. Sad," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia , a teammate of Youkilis since 2007.
Boston completed interleague play with a winning record for the eighth straight season (11-7).
Jason Heyward continued his torrid June for the Braves, hitting a solo homer among his three hits.
Atlanta, which lost for the ninth time in 13 games, closed interleague play 8-10. The Braves lost two of three to the Red Sox after taking two of three against the Yankees in New York.
"We were .500 against the American League East on the road," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. "You always like to get a little greedy. We had an opportunity to win two out of three here and we just couldn't convert it."
Aaron Cook (1-1), making just his second start with the Red Sox and first since going on the disabled list May 6 after sustaining a cut on his left knee covering home plate, gave up three runs - two earned - six hits and didn't walk or strike out anyone in five innings.
Braves starter Mike Minor (3-6) gave up three homers and allowed seven runs - four earned - in 4 2-3 innings.
"Just really basically is what it boils down to is I couldn't throw a fastball for a strike on the inner half today," Minor said.
Adrian Gonzalez added a solo homer for Boston, which won six of seven series against NL opponents.
Heyward is hitting .391 this month with five homers and 12 RBIs.
Cook filled-in for Clay Buchholz , who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with what Valentine called a "gastrointestinal issue."
The Red Sox jumped ahead with a four-run fourth against Minor. After breezing through the first three innings allowing just a pair of singles, Minor walked the first two batters in the inning. Ross then homered into the first row of seats above the Green Monster, making it 3-0. One pitch later, Gonzalez sliced a flyball into the Monster seats to make it 4-0.
The Braves capitalized on Cook's throwing error for a run during a three-run fifth. Eric Hinske had a two-run double into the center field triangle after Heyward and Andrelton Simmons singled. Juan Francisco then bounced back to the mound and Cook had Hinske off the bag, but threw widely past third to allow him to score to make it 4-3. Cook retired the next three batters, finishing his work.
In the fifth, Boston scored three unearned runs off Minor when Will Middlebrooks had a sacrifice fly and Ross followed with a two-run homer completely out of Fenway Park over the Monster, making it 7-3. Simmons had a throwing error on Kelly Shoppach 's grounder to open the inning when he fired the ball into the Red Sox dugout.
Heyward homered off Matt Albers in the sixth.
NOTES: Valentine decided to give recently struggling DH David Ortiz (0 for 11 last three games) a day off with a left-hander starting for Atlanta. "He said he could probably use it," Valentine said. With Ortiz out, hot rookie Middlebrooks moved to DH and Youkilis was back at third. Youkilis was given a lengthy ovation when he came to plate the first time. ... Hinske started just his 20th game this season for Atlanta, and doubled and tripled his first two times up. ... Former Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz was on hand working the nationally televised game and spent time pregame chatting with players in the Braves' clubhouse. ... Braves 3B Chipper Jones , who had the day off, is hitting just .189 (7 for 37) since coming off the DL on June 10. ... Red Sox pitching coach Bob McClure was back with the team after missing two weeks with a family matter.