Braves-Red Sox Preview

The Associated Press

Bobby Valentine doesn't seem eager to take the hot-hitting Will Middlebrooks out of his lineup.

An illness, though, has forced the Boston Red Sox manager to make a change on the mound.

Middlebrooks will likely get a chance to continue his stunning surge Sunday as the Red Sox try to cap this series with the Atlanta Braves by winning for the ninth time in 11 games.

Boston's rookie third baseman is hitting .331 with nine homers and 33 RBIs in 40 games since being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket on May 2 after a back injury landed Kevin Youkilis on the disabled list.

Middlebrooks seems to have taken the starting job from Youkilis, who has struggled since being activated and is now the subject of trade rumors.

In the first five games of this homestand, Middlebrooks is 10 for 14 with three homers and nine RBIs. He had three hits, including a homer and a double, to spark Saturday's 8-4 win over the Braves (38-33) after Boston (37-34) dropped the opener of this series 4-1 on Friday.

"You said it," Middlebrooks said 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.

"I'm just confident. I feel good right now. I'm in a good groove. It's pretty simple: I'm seeing the ball well."

So well that Valentine doesn't want to mess with a good thing.

"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."

That's exactly what Valentine has been forced to do with Clay Buchholz, who will miss his scheduled start because of an illness. The right-hander has won each of his four starts this month behind a 2.40 ERA.

Instead, the Red Sox will activate Aaron Cook (0-1, 20.25 ERA) from the disabled list and give him the ball. The right-hander has been out since suffering a large cut on his left knee while covering the plate on a passed ball during a loss to Baltimore on May 5. That was his Boston debut, and he surrendered seven runs in 2 2-3 innings - mostly after the injury.

Cook, who spent the last 10 seasons with Colorado, has made one rehab start for Pawtucket, allowing three runs and seven hits in four innings Monday.

He's 1-2 with a 5.28 ERA in 10 starts against the Braves, getting pounded for seven runs and 10 hits in losing the most recent matchup July 6.

Despite Saturday's loss, Atlanta has won seven of nine on the road, and Jason Heyward is hitting .429 with four homers and nine RBIs in that stretch. He has four hits and three runs in this series.

Mike Minor (3-5, 6.04) is scheduled for another tough matchup after facing the New York Yankees in each of his last two starts and struggling in the Bronx on Monday.

The left-hander allowed four runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 6-2 loss, but he's still 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in his last three outings after going 0-3 with a 9.95 ERA in his previous six.

"I feel like every game you can learn something from it," Minor told the Braves' official website Monday after striking out seven Yankees. "I've had my real bad games and I've learned things from that. I can take away good things and reflect on the bad things."

He's never faced the Red Sox, who rank second in the majors behind Texas with 367 runs.

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