BOS@KC: Middlebrooks knocks home a pair with a single

BOSTON -- Third baseman Will Middlebrooks has been batting ninth in manager John Farrell's batting order since his return from Triple-A Pawtucket on Aug. 10. But with the Red Sox lacking power from the right side, Middlebrooks could move up in the near future.

"That possibility certainly exists," Farrell said. "He's going to tell us when he's ready. As we've seen of late, the bottom half of the lineup has fluctuated a little bit, and we're trying to ride a little bit more of the hot hand at times and when the matchups might present themselves to be an advantage. That can happen in time."

Since his return, Middlebrooks has swung the bat well, going 7-for-18 entering play Friday.

"You know, he looks more relaxed in the box -- that's probably the biggest thing that stands out right now," said Farrell. "Prior to being optioned back, I think there was a tendency to try to make up for some previous at-bats. That's not the case now. He's playing a little more free of mind.

"He's made a number of good passes while at the plate. He gives us the potential to lengthen out the lineup with a power bat in the order, so he just looks more understanding of what not only his checkpoints are, but how he can address a certain pitch, particularly on the outer part of the plate."

Napoli bothered by high strikeout number

BOS@HOU: Fields fans Napoli to end the eighth

BOSTON -- Though strikeouts have become far more accepted in the current stats universe, Red Sox slugger Mike Napoli despises the fact that he led the American League with 158 K's entering Friday's action.

"They're not overrated," Napoli said. "There's no excuse of me [striking out because of] being a power hitter. I take it serious. I hate striking out. I don't like when people say, 'It's OK, he's a power hitter, it's all right to strike out.' I don't take it that way."

Assuming Napoli stays healthy the rest of the way, he is all but certain to break Mark Bellhorn's team record of 177 strikeouts in a season, set in 2004.

You can be sure Napoli will consider that a dubious mark, one that he hopes to offset with some big hits down the stretch.

"I want to put the ball in play and have something happen," said Napoli. "I choke up on the bat, try to make contact. For me, I'm not going to show that it bothers me, but inside, it bothers me a lot and I really don't like doing it."

Red Sox manager John Farrell knows the punchouts are part of the Napoli package.

"We're living with it. Strikeouts have been part of his career and part of his track record, but it's the tradeoff with his power," Farrell said. "We're willing to accept that. Had that not been the case, he might not be here. We know the type of player he is. We're going to ride with him."

Napoli's strikeouts wouldn't be much of a topic at all if he was having a Most Valuable Player-caliber season like the Orioles' Chris Davis, who is second in the AL with 146 K's.

"I don't want to do that," Napoli said. "I want to put the ball in play. I'm a hard swinger but I try to make contact and hit it hard somewhere. I'm not OK with getting out any time or striking out. It bothers me when I do. I don't accept being a power hitter and it being OK for me to strike out. I definitely don't accept it."

After getting the night off on Thursday, Napoli was back in Boston's lineup against Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte on Friday night, batting seventh.

Napoli went 4-for-33 on the just-completed road trip. Could a hot streak be coming soon?

"Geez, if I knew that, we'd go look for some wallets out in the parking lot," quipped Farrell. "He's a streaky type of hitter. We've got to ride that. When he gets into that hot streak, he can carry us. He's shown it. He's done it here against this team in a recent series when they were here. But it's a guy we've got to make sure we get him his rest like other guys, and we're trying to do that with the schedule we've gone through."

Farrell's Red Sox efficient with stolen bases

TB@BOS: Victorino's baserunning leads to a run

BOSTON -- When John Farrell was hired as the manager of the Red Sox, he vowed to have a team that would be aggressive on the basepaths.

However, when it comes to stolen bases, the Red Sox have not only been aggressive, but also efficient.

Entering play on Friday, the Sox had stolen 93 bases while being caught just 19 times for an 83-percent success rate.

"Well, they're smart baserunners," Farrell said. "They spend time studying the pitcher on the mound at the given moment. We've got some reminders that run through [coach] Arnie [Beyeler] at first base, to what they might trigger on as a key. They pay attention, in addition to their physical abilities. It's not an accident that they are as successful as they are."

Jacoby Ellsbury leads the way with 44 steals in 48 attempts. Shane Victorino is 17-for-20 while Dustin Pedroia is 16-for-21.

"I think if you're north of 75 percent, you stay the course," Farrell said. "When an individual falls below it, then you've got to pull back in."

Worth noting

• Entering Friday, lefty reliever Franklin Morales hadn't been used in his first five games since being activated from the disabled list. Farrell said he'd like to find a low-leverage situation so Morales can get his feet wet.

• David Ross was set to catch back-to-back games for Pawtucket on Friday and Saturday, his final hurdle before being activated for the start of Boston's West Coast road trip on Monday. Ross has been out since June 18 due to a concussion.

• When the Red Sox go to San Francisco and Los Angeles next week, they will be without the designated hitter for six straight games. Considering that Napoli has struggled so much of late, David Ortiz could get his share of games at first base. Farrell said he is in the process of mapping that schedule out.