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Tense moment reveals lack of depth at third base

Tense moment reveals lack of depth at third base play video for Tense moment reveals lack of depth at third base

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Third baseman Will Middlebrooks admitted that what happened in the first inning of Wednesday night's game was scary. It was an awkward swing on an up-and-in fastball, one that caused him to drop his bat, fling his helmet into the dugout in frustration and worry that he'd reinjured the right wrist he fractured late last season.

But it doesn't appear to be a setback, he said, nor does it seem to be a serious injury. It was nothing more than a scare -- for Middlebrooks, of course, but also for the Red Sox, given their lack of Major League-ready depth at third base behind him.

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Middlebrooks left the game, an eventual 5-3 loss to the Orioles, with what the team called soreness in his right wrist, and he will be re-evaluated on Thursday morning. But he insisted afterward in the visitors' clubhouse at Ed Smith Stadium that he feels fine and doesn't require X-rays. Manager John Farrell said that the team's training staff will see how Middlebrooks feels on Thursday morning before determining the next step, be it more tests or nothing at all.

The best-case scenario, Middlebrooks said, is that he'll be taking batting practice on Thursday with the rest of the Red Sox.

"It's not as serious as we thought it was. It was just more of a scare because of the area it was, right where I broke it last year," Middlebrooks said. "I was just frustrated because I've been busting my [rear] to get this thing back to where I can play. In my head I was worried there might be a setback, and I don't think there's going to be."

But it's the idea of a setback, the worst-case scenario the Red Sox had to deal with the last two months of the 2012 season, that underscored just how thin Boston's roster is at third base.

"We'll get a better read on it tomorrow, but hopefully, this is something that's just sort of a short-term thing where he's day to day," Farrell said. "Everyone saw last year, when he was missed in that lineup. That's a potent right-handed bat. Hopefully, this is just a day-to-day type thing, and every indication is just that right now."

Middlebrooks tried to check his swing on a pitch from Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman, resulting in a motion that he said felt as awkward as it looked. He wasn't worried that he might have broken his wrist again, just that he was feeling discomfort in an area that had prematurely ended his rookie season. He was forced to exit and was replaced by Pedro Ciriaco, who went on to drive in Boston's first run of the game.

Middlebrooks said that the uncomfortable feeling likely had to do with jarring the scar tissue surrounding the part of his wrist that was fractured last August. But the initial scare passed, the pain subsided, and everything checked out on the strength tests he took after departing. If anything, he said, he probably could have finished the at-bat.

"No reason to take any risk whatsoever," Farrell said.

There's certainly no reason to risk further injury in a Grapefruit League game, as Boston can hardly afford to lose Middlebrooks. The 24-year-old slugger obviously provides a powerful bat in the middle of the lineup, as he posted a .288/.325/.509 line in 286 plate appearances as a rookie in 2012. But, more important, the Red Sox simply don't have many options waiting in the wings.

Next on the depth chart is Ciriaco, the utility man who saw time in 76 games for Boston last year. He batted .293 with a .705 OPS and played all three outfield positions, second base, shortstop and third base. He became the primary third baseman when Middlebrooks went down but hit just .270 with a .643 OPS from that point on, compared with his .341 average and .831 OPS before that.

There are few other viable options on the 40-man roster. There's 24-year-old Brock Holt, who's made only 72 plate appearances in the Majors. Among the non-roster invitees is 29-year-old journeyman Drew Sutton, a career .256 hitter who's played 128 Major League games as a utility man.

Top prospect Xander Bogaerts, a 20-year-old shortstop who should play some third base for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, is still young, but he would likely become part of the conversation if Middlebrooks is ever out for an extended period of time. Bogaerts reached Double-A Portland as a 19-year-old last season, compiling a .307/.373/.523 line with 37 doubles, 20 homers and 81 RBIs between Class A Advanced Salem and Portland.

For a few scary moments on Wednesday night, it appeared the Red Sox might have to seriously consider their alternatives -- or lack thereof -- at third base. But that's all it was, according to Middlebrooks: a scare, nothing more.

"Nothing's broken. Nothing's torn," he said. "It was just kind of a scary, awkward swing, and we just wanted to make sure everything's fine."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"event":["spring_training" ] }
{"event":["spring_training" ] }