PORTLAND — About this time last year, Will Middlebrooks started to see his numbers go down after a strong start for the Portland Sea Dogs.
And the big question was how he would handle it.
But Middlebrooks, now 23, stayed tough and had a breakout year in 2011 which has led to a breakout major league debut with Boston.
In his first five games in the majors, Middlebrooks – who left Tuesday night’s game in the second inning with tightness in his left hamstring – is batting .409 with three home runs, four doubles and nine RBI. Two of those home runs came Monday night at Kansas City.
Middlebrooks is the talk of the Sea Dogs’ clubhouse. And Tuesday, talk is about all the Sea Dogs could do; their scheduled game against New Hampshire at Hadlock Field was postponed by rain.
Just last season, Middlebrooks was hanging out in the Hadlock clubhouse.
“It’s a thrill to see him take off the way he has,” said Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles, who managed Middlebrooks at three levels the previous three years, from Class A Greenville to advanced Class A Salem to Double-A Portland.
In Portland, Middlebrooks established himself as a future major leaguer.
“Playing with Will last year and seeing him take his game to the next level, I saw that firsthand,” said Sea Dogs infielder Ryan Dent, who was a teammate of Middlebrooks every season since both were drafted in 2007.
“I’ve seen Will mature right before my eyes. It’s awesome.”
Middlebrooks signed for $925,000, an unusually high bonus for a fifth-round draft pick. His numbers were OK in his first three seasons – a combined .267 with a total of 20 home runs.
He was batting .343 in Portland on May 9 when the numbers started to drop, down to .276 by May 28.
The concern about Middlebrooks was that when he struggled, he got down on himself and became passive.
“In Greenville we called him the meek little lamb,” Boles said.
Middlebrooks admitted in an interview last year that in the past, “I didn’t know how to deal with failure.”
But in Portland he battled through, and was batting .302 with 18 home runs when he was promoted to Triple-A on Aug. 19.
“He stuck with it and now he’s having great success,” Dent said.
On Tuesday, Boles received a call from his father, John Boles, who works for the Kansas City Royals and saw Middlebrooks’ performance Monday night.
“My dad said he definitely fit in,” Kevin Boles said.
WHILE A CLUBHOUSE can celebrate the success of a former teammate, there is also the other end of the spectrum.
Teammates had to say goodbye to reliever Eammon Portice, who was released Tuesday.
Portice, 26, was in his third season in Double-A. He had a 4.73 ERA the previous two years, and was 0-1 with a 4.76 ERA this season in nine appearances.
His roster spot likely will be filled today when infielder Heiker Meneses is expected to come off the disabled list.
TUESDAY’S RAINED-OUT game will be made up as part of a doubleheader July 13. The start time for that day has been moved up an hour to 6 p.m.
Fans with tickets to Tuesday’s game can exchange them for another game (call the ticket office at 879-9500 for more information).
The Josh Beckett bobblehead dolls scheduled to be given out Tuesday will be given away June 6.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]