Red Sox-Giants Preview

The Associated Press

The Boston Red Sox are percentage points out of first place in the AL East.

It wouldn't take much to drop the San Francisco Giants back into the NL West cellar.

Will Middlebrooks looks to continue his hot hitting and help the Red Sox regain sole possession of the division lead in the finale of this three-game series with the Giants on Wednesday.

Boston (74-54) is in a virtual tie with Tampa Bay atop the division, but is percentage points behind having played four more games.

The Red Sox can regain first place with a win Wednesday afternoon, but it may just be temporary since the Rays are facing Baltimore hours later.

Boston has failed to build a cushion in the East, losing eight of 12. Brayan Villarreal walked Marco Scutaro on four pitches with the bases loaded in the ninth inning Tuesday in his team debut as the Red Sox lost 3-2.

''We shouldn't be in that situation,'' catcher David Ross said. ''We had a guy that we know who is notorious for taking pitches, we have to throw strike one.''

Middlebrooks had two of his team's seven hits in the defeat and is batting .452 (14 for 31) in 10 games since being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket.

That's a welcome change after he batted .192 over his first 53 games, earning him a return to the minors in June.

Middlebrooks is a .373 hitter with four homers and 14 RBIs in 18 career interleague games.

Felix Doubront (8-6, 3.95 ERA) will try to help Boston avoid a third straight road series loss as he tries to bounce back from a dismal outing.

The left-hander was roughed up for a season-worst seven runs and eight hits - two homers - in four innings of a 10-3 loss to the Yankees on Friday. That came six days after he gave up three runs with four walks in four-plus innings of a 5-3 win at Kansas City.

"I feel like I was a little bit off with my mechanics, the release point of the ball," Doubront told the team's official website Friday. "My past outing was the same. I have to keep working on that."

Doubront, facing the Giants for the first time, has won his last three interleague starts behind a 2.70 ERA.

San Francisco has won four of six to move one-half game ahead of last-place San Diego in the NL West.

Barry Zito (4-8, 5.34) is scheduled to take the mound with Chad Gaudin going on the disabled list after being diagnosed with Carpal tunnel syndrome.

Zito went 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA over his last four starts before being moved to the bullpen following a 7-3 loss at Philadelphia on July 30.

He struggled in his first two relief outings, giving up five runs in two innings. However, the left-hander rebounded by yielding one run in three innings over his next two appearances, and that's good enough for manager Bruce Bochy.

"He went to the 'pen and I think he earned this," Bochy told the team's official website. "He's a guy who's done a lot for us, if you look at last year. I now it's been an up-and-down year for him, but his stuff, coming out of the 'pen, I think has gotten better."

Zito will face the Red Sox for the first time since a loss in Boston on June 15, 2007.

David Ortiz is 10 for 25 with two homers and three doubles against Zito, while Dustin Pedroia is 4 for 6 with a home run.

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