BOSTON — Boston rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks went out of his way to try to avoid sounding overconfident, considering he has become a hot topic of conversation in a fight for a regular starting spot.
Middlebrooks had a solo homer among his three hits and drove in two runs, Franklin Morales gave Boston another decent start as the fill-in for Josh Beckett, and the Red Sox beat the Atlanta Braves 8-4 on Saturday night.
Middlebrooks, recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket when Kevin Youkilis went on the disabled list with a strained lower back on May 2, has put up big numbers in a small period of time.
“You said it,” he said, smiling, when asked if he is letting his bat do the talking as he challenges Youkilis for playing time. “I don’t care, to be honest, I came here to play baseball.”
Dustin Pedroia added three hits, a walk and had two RBIs for Boston, which won for the eighth time in 10 games to ensure a winning interleague record for the eighth straight season. The Red Sox improved to 10-7 against NL opponents.
But it was Middlebrooks that sparked the offense.
Middlebrooks hit Martinez’s first pitch of the third into the Monster seats, making it 5-1. It was the ninth homer of the season for the rookie third baseman, who has made it hard for manager Bobby Valentine to keep him out of the lineup.
“A lot of home run hitters hit them in bunches,” Valentine said. “You don’t want to take him out of the lineup when he’s hot.”
Middlebrooks has gone 10 for 14 in his last five games with three homers, three doubles and nine RBIs, and is hitting .381 in his last 26 games.
“I’m just confident. I feel good right now,” he said. “I’m in a good groove. It’s pretty simple: I’m seeing the ball well.”
Morales (1-1) gave up three runs — two earned — and seven hits, striking out eight and walking one. He fanned a career-best nine in five innings last Sunday against the Chicago Cubs, when he took Beckett’s turn in the rotation after the right-hander had shoulder inflammation.
Morales said he understands it is not his choice, and is hoping Valentine gives him another chance to start.
“I feel really confident in myself,” he said. “I think it’s good for me to be starting.”
Valentine quickly answered “yes” when asked if Morales would make another start.
Braves starter Randall Delgado (4-8) was knocked out of the game after retiring only four batters. He gave up four runs and six hits.
“He just didn’t have location,” Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. “When a young kid struggles with location, it snowballs on him fast.”
Michael Bourn had three singles, two stolen bases and two RBIs for the Braves, who lost for the second time in nine road games.
Trailing 1-0 in the first, Boston scored two runs when Adrian Gonzalez had an RBI single, and Middlebrooks followed with a run-scoring double off the Green Monster.
The Red Sox chased Delgado in the second and increased the lead to 4-1 on Pedroia’s two-run double to the gap in left-center. Cristhian Martinez relieved with the bases loaded and got Gonzalez to bounce into an inning-ending double play.
Bourn’s RBI single cut it to 5-2 in the fifth, but Cody Ross’ RBI double restored Boston’s four-run lead in the bottom of the inning.
Atlanta cut it to 6-4 against Scott Atchison in the seventh, but Brian McCann lined into an inning-ending double play against Andrew Miller with runners on the corners.
In the seventh, Daniel Nava had a two-run single for Boston.
The Braves had taken a 1-0 lead in the first on McCann’s run-scoring infield hit. Morales then struck out the next two batters before getting Jones to line out.
“We should have gotten more out of the first than we did,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We really had a chance to kind of set the tone for the ballgame and have them play catch-up and hopefully give our young guy a little bit of breathing room.”
NOTES: Braves RHP Jair Jurrjens was feeling fine a day after his first major league start since late April when he held the Red Sox to one run and three hits in 7 2-3 innings of a 4-1 win on Friday. He was sent to the minors to “strengthen his right knee” that caused him to miss all of last September. … Neither team took batting practice on the field due to a strong line of thunderstorms that hit the area about 2 hours before the start. … Middlebrooks started for the third straight game, leaving Youkilis on the bench for the third in a row. “Difficult and stressful and all those things,” Valentine said of how the situation has been to handle. Before the game Youkilis joked, “I’m not dead. I’m still here,” when asked to recall some of his memories in Boston. … Pedroia was 0 for 11 coming into the game. … Braves lefty Mike Minor (3-5) faces Aaron Cook (0-1) in the series finale Sunday. Cook will replace Clay Buchholz, who was scratched due to an illness. … It was the 750th consecutive sellout of Fenway Park.