NEW YORK -- Quietly, a significant event took place for Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks before Monday's game against the Yankees. For the first time since he fractured his right wrist on Aug. 10 in Cleveland, Middlebrooks took batting practice.

"It went really well," Middlebrooks said on Tuesday. "Better than I thought it would. I hit a few balls out, which kind of surprised me, because it still feels pretty weak. I'm a little sore today. It's just a gauge. And they feel more comfortable now with me going into the offseason and doing my workouts and I don't really have to worry about anything."

Middlebrooks would have hit on the field again on Tuesday, but rain spoiled that, so Middlebrooks took some hacks in the indoor cage.

Though batting practice is something a player usually takes for granted, this was a big step for Middlebrooks heading into the winter.

"I was so excited all day yesterday," Middlebrooks said. "I wanted to tell you guys [in the media], but I was trying to keep it under wraps. It was fun. It just felt good to get out there again."

Before the injury, Middlebrooks was perhaps the bright spot of the season for the Red Sox, hitting .288 with 15 homers and 54 RBIs.

Valentine defends decision to sit Ellsbury

NEW YORK -- Manager Bobby Valentine defended his decision to sit Jacoby Ellsbury on Monday night, a game the Red Sox wound up losing, 10-2, to the Yankees.

Ellsbury had returned for two games from an undisclosed injury before sitting on Monday. Valentine emphasized that it was his decision to keep Ellsbury on the bench, and that it was more of a baseball move than a health-related move.

Because the Yankees and Orioles are still fighting for the American League East title, there was a lot of attention on the fact Boston started Monday's game with six players who opened the season at Triple-A and a seventh (Danny Valencia) who spent a large portion of the summer there.

"CC [Sabathia] was pitching and I saw [Ellsbury] face [a lefty in Baltimore] a couple of nights before with his breaking ball, and I thought it was a situation where a right-hander might be able to do better, and [Che-Hsuan] Lin got half of our hits, so maybe that hunch was OK," Valentine said.

Again, Valentine was not trying to be a doormat to the Yankees and try to ruin anything for the Orioles.

"I thought I was playing the team that was going to give us a good chance to win," said Valentine. "It's a big center field. Lin is a very good defensive player. Ells really hasn't hit that well against left-handers and Lin got two hits last night, and the first time up he really walked but they called him out on a high 3-2 curveball, so he really would have been on base three times.

"Clay [Buchholz] was going to give us a chance to win yesterday by pitching well, and our offense wasn't going to be able to outmatch them. We were hoping to outpitch them. A little defense would have helped -- I thought. So that's that."

Dice-K's last hurrah set for Wednesday in Bronx

NEW YORK -- Daisuke Matsuzaka's tenure with the Red Sox started with so much fanfare. It will end quietly, as the righty will pitch the final game of the season Wednesday against the Yankees.

Matsuzaka is a free agent after the season and the Red Sox aren't expected to bring him back.

His six-year tenure started with two solid seasons, only to be followed by four years marked by injuries and under-performance.

Matsuzaka has pitched 116 games for the Red Sox, going 50-36 with a 4.47 ERA. To get him, the Red Sox submitted a posting fee of $51.1 million to the Seibu Lions and then inked the righty to a six-year, $52 million contract.

Dice-K has pitched just 55 times over the last four seasons, going 17-21 with a 5.42 ERA.

"I'm not going to try to evaluate his overall time. I didn't really watch a lot of it," said manager Bobby Valentine. "I know that one year he won a lot of games and he won a seventh game or something. He has a bit of stuff on his resume.

"But this year, I didn't know what to expect coming back from an injury. ... I don't think he fully recovered [from Tommy John surgery]. He says he has and the training room says he has, but I still think there's a little mental hurdle he has to get over that's very similar, and I don't want to just lump Japanese guys into one category, but in Spring Training, [Junichi] Tazawa had a mental hurdle to get over and he wasn't throwing the ball the way he was capable of. And then one day he broke through. And I think the same thing happens with everyone coming back from injury."

After competing against Matsuzaka in Japan, Valentine enjoyed his one year with the righty.

"Well, I didn't get that chance to work with him that much, but [pitching coach] Randy [Niemann] was there a lot with him," Valentine said. "My interaction with him, I felt he was always a willing and able candidate to do whatever he was asked to do. He never rejected an idea. He always wanted to do well. I don't know if you could ask anything more."