Valentine shuffles lineup; Middlebrooks sits

Valentine shuffles lineup; Middlebrooks sits

BOSTON -- Ever since Jacoby Ellsbury went down in early April, Mike Aviles has slid seamlessly into the leadoff spot for the Red Sox and drawn positive reviews, hitting .278 with a .321 on-base percentage. The Red Sox have been third in the Majors with 102 runs scored since Aviles took over.

But that hasn't stopped manager Bobby Valentine from shuffling his lineup here and there, and it was no different on Saturday afternoon vs. the Orioles.

Valentine had originally sketched a lineup with Ryan Sweeney (.360 average, .395 OBP) hitting out of the leadoff spot and Aviles back to No. 5, where his power could be more utilized. But third baseman Will Middlebrooks was a late scratch with left hamstring tightness (Middlebrooks said he feels fine) and Valentine again opted to change the lineup, giving Nick Punto (.174 average, .333 OBP) the leadoff position.

Valentine originally said Sweeney made sense at the top of the order because "he'll work the count and get on base. It's not much different than the No. 2 spot. It's one away." Sweeney has a career .345 OBP and, though he doesn't have the speed of a typical leadoff hitter, could be a good fit with his patient approach at the plate.

Instead, Saturday's 8-2 loss to the Orioles marked the second game this season Punto has hit No. 1, having gone 3-for-6 the first time around. He saw nine pitches from O's starter Jason Hammel during his first at-bat before striking out swinging. Punto finished 0-for-4.

"I just wanted to do that," Valentine said after the game about batting Punto leadoff. "I thought maybe he could spark us at the top of the lineup. I was hoping. He had a big, long at-bat leading off the game. I thought we'd get a lot of him."