CHICAGO — If Shane Victorino was healthy, slumping Jacoby Ellsbury may not still be the Red Sox leadoff hitter.
With Ellsbury mired in a 4-for-27 funk that has lowered his on-base percentage to .307, manager John Farrell admitted Monday to considering dropping him down in the batting order. But Victorino, the Sox’ most viable leadoff-hitting alternative, has been hampered by assorted injuries, most recently a tight left hamstring that had him sidelined again last night.
“We’re sticking with (Ellsbury) to hopefully give him the opportunity to come out of the situation that he’s in right now,” Farrell said before Ellsbury went 1-for-3 with a walk in Monday night’s 3-1 loss. “But I can say this: Whether he’s hitting first or whether he’s hitting somewhere else in the lineup, there are still things that we need to address, that he needs to address, and those are ongoing.”
Farrell was the Red Sox pitching coach in 2009 when then-manager Terry Francona briefly removed Ellsbury from the leadoff spot in favor of Dustin Pedroia. Four years later, Pedroia is cemented in the No. 3 spot, and other than Victorino, the Red Sox lack a player with game-changing speed to bat at the top of the order.
“With Shane being out of the lineup, yeah, we would like to have that blend of speed and on-base ability,” Farrell said, “even though the on-base ability right now has been less than.”
On Monday night, Ellsbury grounded out to second base in each of his four at-bats, including one double play. He has drawn only four walks in his last 10 games and hasn’t homered in a span of 165 at-bats, but Farrell rejected the notion that the lefty-hitting Ellsbury may be trying too hard to pull the ball, thereby throwing his swing out of whack.
Ellsbury’s power was notably slow to emerge during his MVP-worthy 2011 season, when he hit a career-high 32 homers, drove in 105 runs and slugged .552. Through the Sox’ first 45 games that season, Ellsbury had only four homers and a .441 slugging percentage. The difference: He still was batting .296 with a .351 OBP.
“It’s inconsistent timing at the plate right now, whether it’s four ground balls to second base or whether it’s three line drives to third base,” Farrell said. “This isn’t a matter of effort. It’s a matter of maybe being a little bit more free of mind and letting that natural ability take over.”
With free agency and a potential payday in excess of $100 million looming at season’s end, it’s understandable that Ellsbury’s mind would be cluttered. But Farrell doesn’t believe the anticipation of free agency is weighing on Ellsbury.
“No, I wouldn’t say that’s the issue that he’s dealing with right now,” Farrell said. “I also know that he’s human, and he understands where he’s at in his career and what’s ahead of him. What’s going to take place throughout the remainder of the season and into the offseason, time will handle that, and that will be addressed at the appropriate time.”
Taking it slow
Victorino continued to feel tightness in his left hamstring despite receiving treatment and won’t return to the lineup until he’s “symptom-free,” according to Farrell. At this point, the Red Sox haven’t determined whether Victorino will need to go on the 15-day disabled list.
“Right now, we still think this is a short-term thing,” Farrell said, “but we’ve got to let this continue to subside.”
Victorino has missed 12 games, the first 11 because of tightness in his lower back. Both Farrell and Victorino have suggested a connection between the injuries.
“They’re all connected,” Victorino said. “I feel healthy in my back area, but I don’t know if different parts of my body are working harder.” . . .
Pedroia drove in the Red Sox’ lone run last night when he reached on an error by White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez. But he finished 0-for-4, bringing an end to his 12-game hitting streak. . . .
Although catcher David Ross continued to hit off a tee in his recovery from a concussion, Farrell said he’s expected to go on a brief minor league rehab assignment later this week before being activated from the disabled list.
“We’ve got to get him into some game activity where he can see some pitches at game speed,” Farrell said. “He’s certainly turned the corner in a positive way.”
Iglesias at third
In an attempt to bolster their infield versatility, especially with utility man Pedro Ciriaco struggling, slick-fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias played third base yesterday for Triple-A Pawtucket. Farrell indicated Iglesias may also see time at second base.
“We’ll start to move him around, not unlike other guys that have come to the big leagues,” Farrell said, citing Jed Lowrie as an example of a shortstop who was exposed to multiple positions. “We still view him as an everyday shortstop. It’s in the event that something might happen to someone, to prepare as best we can if he comes to us in a role that might call on the versatility.”
Despite playing well during the season’s first week, Iglesias was sent back to the minors when shortstop Stephen Drew was activated from the concussion disabled list. Top prospect Xander Bogaerts, another shortstop, is batting .281 with two homers through 35 games at Double-A Portland.
Bard on the side
Tortured by ongoing control issues, right-hander Daniel Bard has been limited to throwing only bullpen sessions, even though he remains on the active roster at Portland. Farrell said Bard will be allowed to pitch in games “once there’s some repetition to the bullpens.”
In his most recent appearance, last Wednesday night in Portland, Bard walked five batters, threw two wild pitches and recorded only three outs. Only eight of his 30 pitches were strikes.
Distributed by MCT Information Services