Taking the lead: Ellsbury flips the switch

Jan-Christian Sorensen
Contributing Writer

It's starting to look like leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury is back to being the table-setter at the top of the order that the Red Sox require.

A little over a month ago, manager John Farrell intimated that he was considering moving Ellsbury — who was batting .241 with the fourth-lowest OBP (.303) in baseball among leadoff hitters — down in the order to try and spark some life in the 29-year-old centerfielder, and his team in the bargain.

“(We’ve considered it), yes, but we’re sticking with him,” said Farrell, at the time. “Whether he’s hitting first or hitting somewhere else in the lineup, there are things we have to address and he has to address.”

Whether his struggles at the plate were due to the pressure of impending free agency, a lack of confidence or nagging shoulder issues isn’t clear.

What is clear is that Ellsbury seems to have effectively dealt with whatever demons he needed to exorcise.

He’s raised his average to .293 and his on-base percentage is now up to .357, tied for seventh-best in the majors. He’s first among leadoff hitters in hits (92), stolen bases (32) and triples (7) and second in doubles (20) and runs (49). In his last seven games, he’s hitting .423 with an OBP of .467.

It’s been a steady, sustained turnaround since Ellsbury returned June 6 from a brief layoff after tweaking his groin in a five-steal spectacle against Philadelphia May 30. Over that span he’s hit .361 with eight doubles, two triples and six RBI while drawing eight walks and stealing 11 bases.

Recent case study: in the first of a two-game set against the visiting Colorado Rockies on Tuesday, Ellsbury went 3 for 5 and scored three times in an 11-4 Red Sox rout. In the first inning he led off with a double to left, advanced on a Shane Victorino sac bunt and came around to score on a Dustin Pedroia hit to right field. In the third, Ellsbury singled to right to move Jose Iglesias into scoring position. In the seventh inning, he pulled the same trick again. In both instances, Iglesias and Ellsbury were brought around to score by their teammates.

Every kid pulling an allowance knows the drill: Set the table, clear the table.

On Wednesday, Ellsbury only went 1 for 4 but he made that one hit count, doubling to lead off the game and coming around on a Victorino single to tie the score at 1-1.

“Having a guy like Jacoby set the table for us, I think that’s important,” Victorino told NESN. “We’ve said that all year long — when he sets the table, that makes it easy for me to do different things. You know, whether (it’s) to bunt him over to third and let Pedroia drive him in, just doing the little things effectively. He led off with a double and I was able to find some grass out there and the next thing you know we tied the game.”

His near-prescient reads on opposing pitchers and sudden, blinding speed have always made Ellsbury a genuine threat on the base paths, and now that he’s starting to reach more consistently, the Sox’s offensive engine is also cycling faster. Boston currently leads the majors in OPS (.793), doubles (175) and RBI (400) and ranks second in the American League in total bases (1,232).

“When he gets on base, we’re seeing what he’s capable of doing,” said Farrell of Ellsbury in mid-June. “With two outs, he gets on base and could be standing on third in a matter of pitches.”

Twitter: @jan_doh