Red Sox

Middlebrooks eager to play after last season's injury

755388.jpg

Middlebrooks eager to play after last season's injury

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Will Middlebrooks' rookie season in the big leagues was one he won't forget.

It began well, with Middlebrooks taking over at third base from Kevin Youkilis, hitting .288 while adding 15 homers and 54 RBI. Then, just as it was getting going, Middlebrooks was struck on the hand by a pitch in early August and missed almost the final two months of 2012.

The team's last-place finish was bad enough, but being sidelined with an injury made it all the more frustrating.

Jokingly pronouncing himself "105 percent" healthy, Middlebrooks wants to put last season -- the injury and the 93 losses -- behind him.

"Everyone who was a part of it is (eager),'' he said, "and I had to sit back and just watch, so I feel like I'm even more (eager) at this point, ready to go. Sitting there in a cast, I couldn't hit, I couldn't throw. I don't know if that made it worse, but in my own mind, it did."

Middlebrooks spent the winter rehabbing from the broken hand, making his off-season a bit different than usual.

"The first month, I was really finishing up my rehab," said Middlebrooks. "But I took BP in New York (in the final series of the season); that was my goal at the end of the year, just so I could go into the off-season knowing I was ready to go, I can get my lifts in, have everything normal and and come to spring training ready to go."

He didn't start swinging until the week before Christmas.

"Everyone who's had a similar injury said 'You're going to go through an awkward stage where you don't really trust it,' " he said. "I'll give it a couple of weeks to get past that and get going."

Middlebrooks can remember a year ago at this time, when he felt a bit overwhelmed being in big league camp.

"Last year," said Middlebrooks, "I was stuck in the corner in here, wondering how long I'd be up here, kind of planning my way back down. Now, I have a job. Obviously, I come in with the mindset of trying to win that job. But it's completely different."

He knows he'll have be more consistent this season to avoid going backward. He played long enough for teams to put together a scouting report on him and make adjustments.

"The last month (of last season)," he said, "things completely changed. Pitchers' approach changed with me. It's just a cat-and-mouse game and you have to change along with it."

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

mlb_rob_manfred_081414.jpg

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

cy_young_corey_kluber_chris_sale_111517.jpg

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

Max Scherzer heard his name and thrust his arms in the air, shouting and smiling big before turning to kiss his wife.

Corey Kluber, on the other hand, gulped once and blinked.

Two aces, two different styles - and now another Cy Young Award for each.

The animated Scherzer of the Washington Nationals coasted to his third Cy Young, winning Wednesday for the second straight year in the National League. He breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Kluber's win was even more of a runaway. The Cleveland Indians ace took 28 first-place votes, easily outpacing Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox for his second AL Cy Young.

Scherzer yelled "yes!" when his award was announced on MLB Network, a reaction in keeping with his expressive reputation. He showed that intensity often this year, whether he was cursing under his breath like a madman during his delivery or demanding - also with expletives - that manager Dusty Baker leave him in the game.

Just a little different than the pitcher they call "Klubot." Kluber was stoic as ever when announced as the AL winner. He swallowed hard but otherwise didn't react, only showing the hint of a smile moments later when answering questions.

Not that he wasn't thrilled.

"Winning a second one maybe, for me personally, kind of validates the first one," Kluber said.

Scherzer's win moves him into rare company. He's the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs, and among the other nine, only Kershaw and Roger Clemens aren't in the Hall of Fame.

"That's why I'm drinking a lot of champagne tonight," Scherzer said.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit.

"This one is special," he said. "When you start talking about winning three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point."

Scherzer was 16-6 with a career-best 2.51 ERA this year. The 33-year-old righty struck out a league-leading 268 for the NL East champion Nationals, and in an era noted for declining pitcher durability, he eclipsed 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He had to overcome a variety of ailments to get there, and Washington's training staff was high on his thank-you list.

"Everybody had a role in keeping me out on the field," he said. "I'm very thankful for all their hard work."

Kershaw has won three NL Cy Youngs and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts. This is his second runner-up finish. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals finished third.

Kluber missed a month of the season with back pain and still easily won the AL award over Sale and third-place finisher Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball. He added to the Cy Young he won with the Indians in 2014 and is the 19th pitcher to win multiple times.

The 31-year-old Kluber was especially dominant down the stretch, closing out the season by going 11-1 to help Cleveland win the AL Central. He and Minnesota's Ervin Santana tied for the major league lead with five complete games - nobody else had more than two. Kluber also led the majors with 8.0 wins above replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Kluber and Scherzer both had rough outings in the playoffs. Kluber gave up nine runs over two starts in an AL Division Series against the Yankees, and Scherzer blew a save in the decisive Game 5 of an NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Scherzer said he couldn't even watch the League Championship Series, although he did tune in for the World Series.

"That will eat at me this whole offseason," he said.

Voting for the awards was completed before the postseason began.

The final BBWAA honors will come Thursday when the MVP awards are announced in the AL and NL.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE