BOSTON -- After more than three hours of slugging it out in a soggy Fenway Park, the Red Sox and the Indians did their part to help a town ravaged by tragedy.
About 900 people from Newtown, Conn., visited Fenway on Saturday to take in the contest between Boston and Cleveland, and afterward, players from both teams signed autographs and took pictures with a group of about 450 from the town.
On Dec. 14, 20 children and six adults were fatally shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Families, teachers, first responders and other residents of the town were among those present at the game Saturday.
Anne Alzapiedi, the Newtown recovery program leader, said the experience was "terrific."
"We just really appreciate the generosity and kindness," she said. "The Red Sox reached out to us and wanted to do whatever made sense for the town."
Middlebrooks optimistic about return
BOSTON -- Despite the frustration that comes with watching from the bench, Will Middlebrooks is staying optimistic about the timetable of his return from a lower back injury.
The Red Sox third baseman said he is improving and expects to be back when he is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on June 8.
"It's better today than it was yesterday," Middlebrooks said after Boston's 7-4 victory over Cleveland on Saturday. "If I'm already making steps forward, then that's where I want to be."
Middlebrooks exited Thursday's game against Cleveland with lower back spasms, and an MRI the following day revealed inflammation in his lower back.
Manager John Farrell said he expected Middlebrooks to miss at least three to five days, but with outfielder Shane Victorino out with a sore left hamstring, the club made the decision to place Middlebrooks on the DL.
"Given where we are with the roster, position-player-wise, we had to make a move -- and, really, a precautionary move," Farrell said.
The injury stems from Boston's last game against the White Sox, when the 24-year-old appeared to slip coming out of the batter's box. Middlebrooks originally tried to play through the pain, but to no avail.
"I tried to get it loose, but it was just tight and wouldn't loosen up," he said. "I tried to play anyway, which was probably a no-no on my part. I just wanted to get out there and try to play, and it just got worse."
Middlebrooks, who is batting .201 on the year, was already dealing with a nagging rib injury suffered earlier this month when he collided with catcher David Ross trying to catch a popup in foul territory.
"It's just been one thing after another for the past couple of months so it's been tough, but my teammates are picking me up and playing good baseball," he said.
Red Sox nearing decision on left-hander Morales
BOSTON -- The Red Sox expect to make a decision regarding Franklin Morales soon.
The lefty could rejoin the team immediately and be used out of the bullpen, or he could make another Minor League rehab start and come back in the starting rotation.
Morales, who has been on the disabled list all season with a strained lower back, is up to 80 pitches, and the Red Sox want to find an exact role for him.
"We could make one more start, assuming he plugs right into the rotation," said manager John Farrell, who didn't say whose spot Morales would take. "Or he can work on top of someone the next time through and be available out of the bullpen."
Morales pitched five innings on Thursday for Double-A Portland and would likely not be available until Monday or Tuesday.
Should the Red Sox decide to put him back in the bullpen, Farrell said Morales will be stretched out for about two weeks in case Boston wanted to then insert him back into the rotation.
Morales was effective as a starter last season, maintaining the high strikeout rate he's often shown as a reliever.
Ross happy to be back, but hates new gear
BOSTON -- That black head cap David Ross was wearing in Saturday's 7-4 win over the Indians wasn't transferring alien signals, although he isn't surprised if it looks that way.
It's actually Kevlar protective gear meant to disperse the effects of any contact made to his head, which he's being extra careful with lately after missing 14 days with a concussion.
"I feel like an idiot with that thing on," Ross joked after playing in his first game since May 11. "I keep putting my mask on, because I don't want to walk around with it. I'm getting some alterations to my helmet, but in the meantime, I'm going to wear that. It's a little extra protection."
Ross said the protective gear wasn't a mandate ordered by doctors, but he decided it would be a good idea to wear it for at least a week until he gets his new helmet, which will have Kevlar inside.
It's the same equipment that many pitchers have been wearing in their caps after getting hit in the head with line drives.
Ross, who went 0-for-5 with five strikeouts for the first time in his career on Saturday, said he wasn't feeling any lingering effects of the concussion.
"I was able to work through the game with no dizziness, nothing like that," he said. "Nothing out of the ordinary, other than swinging and missing. We've got to figure out a way to fix that."
Pedroia going strong, could play all 162 games
BOSTON -- Dustin Pedroia is on pace to play 162 games this season, and Red Sox manager John Farrell just might let him.
"I'll probably look [for a day off for him] and he'll probably continue to be in the lineup," Farrell said. "As we know, he's not a guy that's looking to come out of the lineup. Whether it's 162, there may be a time along the way where we give him a break, but right now he's still going strong."
Pedroia entered Saturday with 49 games played, the most in the Majors. He's reached base in all but five games and ranked third in the American League with a .418 on-base percentage.
He's hitting .400 (26-for-65) over his last 16 games, and his season average of .333 ranked seventh in the AL.
"He's a career hitter of over .300, so it's not like he's going to lack that consistency," Farrell said. "The one thing that he's done with probably more regularity is he's hit the ball the other way with consistency, knowing that pitchers aren't going to come in on him. We haven't seen those mistakes or those pitches that end up on the inner third where he's driving the ball off the wall here."
When he won his AL MVP Award in 2008, Pedroia hit .326 with a .376 on-base percentage, 54 doubles and 17 homers.
Farrell started talking MVP on Saturday.
"A lot has been made so far this year about him having an MVP or certainly a strong year compared to the rest of his career," the manager said. "Either across the field or with him every day here, this seems to be very consistent with the years he's had in the past -- whether that's defensively or hitting for a high average. We're fortunate to watch a very good player day in and day out."
Drew out, dealing with soreness following slide
BOSTON -- Jose Iglesias was back at shortstop for the Red Sox on Saturday.
Regular shortstop Stephen Drew, who has been getting time off against left-handed pitchers anyway, was out of the lineup for regular rest, though manager John Farrell said Drew is dealing with soreness following an awkward slide into second base on a double against the Twins on May 17.
"I ran so hard to get to second, just the way I hit the bag, all my force bent my back in the middle," Drew said. "It was awkward."
Drew took two days off after that and hasn't recorded a hit in 17 at-bats since.
Farrell isn't sure if the slide has affected Drew's ability to swing the bat.
"I can't say it hasn't," the manager said. "Whether it's the aggression in which he swung the bat or just in talking with Stephen, I can't say that it's restricted his swing or the extension to it. It might just be the overall aggressiveness. All things considered, that's why today was a natural down day for him."
Farrell doesn't expect Drew to need extended time off, but the move allowed Iglesias to play short just a day after making his first Major League start at third base, where he'll be filling in for the injured Will Middlebrooks.
Jason Mastrodonato is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmastrodonato.. Michael Periatt is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on twitter @MichaelPeriatt. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.