PHOENIX -- Two and a half years removed from starting at third base in the World Series for the champion Red Sox, Will Middlebrooks is fighting for a job with the rebuilding Brewers. On Friday, that meant waiting until the middle innings of a game at Maryvale Baseball Park to show his new team he could handle first base.
Middlebrooks signed a Minor League contract with Milwaukee after the team acquired fellow former Red Sox prospect Garin Cecchini, but before the Brewers traded for Aaron Hill. Hill is penciled in as the starting third baseman, manager Craig Counsell reiterated Friday, before the Brewers lost, 8-5, to the Rangers.
"I told them, 'Wherever you need me. Wherever I fit,'" Middlebrooks said. "I just want to do whatever I can do to make us a better ballclub -- and to make this team.
"I really like it here. I like the coaching staff a lot. I like the players, and I think there's a really bright future for a lot of people here."
So Middlebrooks is trying to fit in where he can and hopes to regain his stroke from his rookie season. After batting .288 with an .835 OPS in 2012, his career numbers have dropped to .231 and .673. Barring injuries to Hill or starting first baseman Chris Carter before Opening Day, that means Middlebrooks is bidding for a bench job.
Middlebrooks has played almost exclusively at third base in his four Major League seasons with the Red Sox and Padres, but he has some exposure to first base, second base and shortstop. He had yet to take a grounder at first base this spring before Friday's assignment, but planned a simple approach.
"Just knock it down, right?" Middlebrooks said.
He went 1-for-2 Friday and now has three singles in 16 Cactus League at-bats.
"I don't think he's quite got it going with the bat yet," Counsell said. "But we're about 15 at-bats in. That's three games in a normal season. So we're not a long ways into Spring Training, by any means."
Barrios still idle
Bullpen candidate Yhonathan Barrios is nearing the end of a weeklong shutdown for a strained right shoulder, Counsell said. Barrios will then be examined by Dr. William Raasch before the team determines whether to begin a throwing program.
"A week off of throwing, that obviously backs you up pretty good," Counsell said. "He was great last September. He was outstanding. So, yeah, it's a setback for him."
Barrios has a full complement of Minor League options remaining.
• Duke University graduate Chris Capuano braced Friday for trash talk from his manager. Counsell went to Notre Dame, which scored a big win over Duke on the basketball court Thursday.
The gloating never happened.
"I'm a little lost in the outside world," Counsell said.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.