DETROIT — Jim Leyland tinkered with his lineup before Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
It was John Farrell’s turn for Game 5 on Thursday night.
The Red Sox manager sent struggling third baseman Will Middlebrooks to the bench in favor of 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts in an effort to jumpstart the lineup.
“The need for the potential for increased production from the left side of the infield,” Farrell said before the game that would put either the Red Sox or Tigers a victory away from the World Series. “And then the brief number of at bats that Xander has had for us, he’s been very much under control…has not expanded the strike zone. And I think more than anything just the maturity that he shows and the offensive potential that he has, I felt like it was time to make a change.”
Bogaerts, 2-for-4 this postseason and 11-for-50 in 18 games during the regular season, became the youngest player to start a postseason game for the Red Sox since Babe Ruth in 1916. Ruth was also 21 but eight months younger than Bogaerts, according to Elias.
“He’s been great,” Dustin Pedroia said of Bogaerts. “It doesn’t seem like he’s 21 years old, so it will be fun.”
Said first baseman Mike Napoli: “He’s not scared. He enjoys playing baseball. Watch him take BP every day, he works hard taking ground balls. He’s been ready. He’s had good ABs and I’m looking forward to seeing him out there…we’ve got a hitter now. That guy can hit.”
Middlebrooks went 1-for-10 over the first four ALCS games with five strikeouts and he’s 4-for-23 (.174) with nine strikeouts over all in the postseason.
Neither Middlebrooks nor Bogaerts were in the Red Sox clubhouse during the time the media was allowed in before the game.
Farrell said, unsurprisingly, that Middlebrooks was “not real happy” about being benched. But he also said the move isn’t necessarily permanent.
“For us to continue through this series and advance it’s going to take everyone on our roster to contribute in some form or fashion,” Farrell said. “And I would expect that Will would find his way back in the field in these remaining games, particularly in this series.”
Leyland, of course, made headlines for altering his lineup for Game 4, a 7-3 Tigers victory.
He dropped a struggling Austin Jackson from leadoff to eighth and moved Torii Hunter from second to the leadoff spot, Hunter’s first time starting a game there since 2000. Basically, everyone moved up one spot — Miguel Cabrera moved from third to second, the slugger’s first time hitting second since 2004, Prince Fielder hit third, and Victor Martinez cleanup.
Leyland made another adjustment for Game 5, flipping Alex Avila and Omar Infante. Infante hit sixth and Avila seventh.
The moves paid off Wednesday, most strikingly with Jackson, who came in 3-for-33 with 18 strikeouts in the postseason. In the Game 4 victory he went 2-for-2 with a walk and two RBI.
Leyland said Wednesday his goal was to “churn up the butter a little bit,” for a struggling offense, but after watching the changes work discounted their impact.
“I don’t think the lineup was a big factor, at all,” Leyland said Thursday afternoon. “I think it did do one thing, I think by his own admission, I think it relaxed Austin Jackson a little bit. The lineup really wasn’t a drastic change, but people were making a big deal about it. We just moved some guys up. The one mission was to try to get Austin maybe away from it a little bit and let him relax a little bit. He did a terrific job. He had a terrific game. From that standpoint the mission was accomplished.”
Farrell, obviously, had his own mission in mind for Thursday.