PORTLAND — About this time last year, Will Middlebrooks’ numbers started to go down after an explosive start for the Portland Sea Dogs.

And the big question was how he would handle it.

If you are a Red Sox follower, you know the rest of the story. Middlebrooks, now 23, stayed tough and had a breakout year in 2011 … which has led to a breakout major league debut with Boston.

In his first four games in the majors, Middlebrooks is batting .381 with three home runs, three doubles and nine RBI. Two of those home runs came Monday night in Kansas City.

Middlebrooks is the talk of the Sea Dogs’ clubhouse. And, on Tuesday, talk is about all the Sea Dogs could do as their scheduled game at Hadlock Field was postponed by rain.

Just last season, Middlebrooks would be hanging out in the Hadlock clubhouse.

“It’s a thrill to see him take off the way he has,” Sea Dogs manager Kevin Boles, who managed Middlebrooks at three different levels the previous three years — from Class A Greenville to advanced Class A Salem to Double-A Portland.

It is in Portland that Middlebrooks established himself as a future major leaguer.

“Playing with Will last year and seeing him take his game to the next level, I saw that first-hand,” said Sea Dogs infielder Ryan Dent, who had been a teammates of Middlebrooks every season since they were both drafted in 2007.

“I’ve seen Will mature right before my eyes. It’s awesome.

Middlebrooks was signed for $925,000, an unusually high signing bonus for a fifth-round draft pick. His number were OK in his first three seasons — a combined .267 with a total of 20 home runs.

He was batting .343 in Portland on May 9, when the numbers started to drop, down to .276 by May 28.

The concern about Middlebrooks was that when he struggled, he got down on himself, became passive.

“In Greenville, we called him the meek, little lamb,” Boles said.

Middlebrooks admitted in an interview last year that, in the past,”I didn’t know how to deal with failure.”

But, in Portland, he battled through, and was batting .302 with 18 home runs when he was promoted to Triple-A on Aug. 19.

“He stuck with it and now he’s having great success,” Dent said.

On Tuesday, Boles received a call from his father, John Boles, who works for the Kansas City Royals and saw Middlebrooks’ performance Monday night.

“My dad said he definitely fit in,” Kevin Boles said.

* * *

While a clubhouse can celebrate the success of a former teammate, there is also the other end of the spectrum to deal with. Teammates said good-bye to reliever Eammon Portice, who was released Tuesday. Portice, 26, was in his third season in Double-A. He had a 4.73 ERA the previous two years, and was 0-1 with a 4.76 ERA this season in nine appearances.

His roster spot will likely be filled today when infielder Heiker Meneses is expected to come off the disabled list.

* * *

Tuesday’s rained-out game will be made up as part of a doubleheader on July 13. The start time for that day has been moved up an hour to 6 p.m.

Fans with tickets to Tuesday’s can exchange them for another game (call the ticket office at 879-9500 for more information).

The Josh Beckett bobblehead dolls, scheduled to be given out Tuesday, will now be given away on June 6.

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