Red-hot Middlebrooks starts over Youkilis

Red-hot Middlebrooks starts over Youkilis

BOSTON -- The outfield isn't completely healthy yet, but it's to the point that manager Bobby Valentine has enough options to keep Adrian Gonzalez where he belongs -- at first base.

So that leaves Valentine with a near daily decision now at the hot corner between veteran Kevin Youkilis and hot rookie Will Middlebrooks.

For Friday night's contest against the Braves, Valentine chose Middlebrooks for the second straight game, marking perhaps the first time since Youkilis became an everyday player in 2006 that he's been a healthy scratch two days in a row.

Valentine said that Youkilis is handling the situation as well as can be expected.

"He doesn't necessarily totally agree with it, he doesn't wake up in the morning and hope that's the case, but I think being the professional person that Kevin is, he understands it," Valentine said.

Middlebrooks came off the bench Wednesday night and hit a two-run homer. He started on Thursday and had three hits and four RBIs, including a game-tying two-run shot in the bottom of the eighth.

In 142 at-bats this season, Youkilis is hitting .225 with four homers, 13 RBIs, a .311 on-base percentage and a .359 slugging percentage. Middlebrooks had 136 at-bats entering Friday's action and was hitting .316 with eight homers, 31 RBIs, a .352 on-base percentage and a .551 slugging percentage.

Is it simply a matter of playing the hot hand these days?

"Yes," Valentine said. "Being I [usually] say no when you ask me that question, today I'm riding the hot hand. Tomorrow might not be the case, and I always reserve the right to change my mind."

Translation: This is a difficult situation for Valentine and Youkilis. The player who seems the least impacted by it is Middlebrooks, who just keeps on hitting.

Youkilis and Middlebrooks have a good working relationship that started back in Spring Training.

"He's been awesome," Middlebrooks said of Youkilis. "He's helped me out so much, man -- not just baseball, but off the field, how to handle everything."

With a little over a month before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, it's certainly possible Youkilis, who is in the last year of his contract, could be moved in a deal at some point.

In the meantime, Valentine will keep juggling as best he can.