FORT MYERS, Fla (CBS) – Jacoby Ellsbury will hit leadoff and play centerfield when the Red Sox take on the Minnesota Twins Monday afternoon.

If all goes well this spring, Ellsbury could find himself back at the top of the order.

“When he’s leading off and hitting well, that’s probably our best lineup,” Manager Terry Francona said Monday morning.

Ellsbury took over the leadoff role during the Red Sox’ 2007 World Series run. In the last three seasons, he has had 1069 at bats atop the order hitting .279 with a .328 OBP. Last season Ellsbury had just 68 at bats in the leadoff spot, with injured ribs causing him to miss all but 18 games.

Gallery: Red Sox On The Mend

Listen To Terry Francona Talking About Ellsbury’s Development Atop The Order

This year, he hopes to reclaim his leadoff form.

“He came into camp swinging the bat way ahead of where I expected him to be,” Francona said. “He’s strong, he obviously spent a lot of time getting ready. The ball is coming off the bat great, so that’s good news.”

Although there have been times Ellsbury has been dropped in the order, Francona stresses that was just for the outfielder’s protection. It was a move to give Ellsbury time to develop without pressure and figure out what he needed to do to get on base.

Something similar could happen this season.

“He missed maybe 500 at bats, so if it looks like maybe that one less at bat a game early on would help him, that’s what we would do,” Francona added.

Mix Ellsbury with the speedy Carl Crawford in the lineup, and the Red Sox sluggers envision their RBI totals increasing in 2011.

Read: Crawford Set To Make Red Sox Debut Against Twins

“RBI’s, that’s how you win games,” Red Sox Designated Hitter David Ortiz said of his teammates getting on base. “Those guys being on base gives us the opportunity, not only to me, to everyone on this ball club to produce.”

For their careers, both Ellsbury and Crawford average 100+ runs scored per 162 games. They also have a knack for stealing bases and wreaking havoc on the basepaths.

“Speed is one of the most powerful ways to win a game in baseball,” Ortiz added.  “Those guys back to back have got to be a headache.”


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