BOSTON (CBS) — For as long as he was healthy, Jacoby Ellsbury made decisions easy for his managers whenever they had to write a Red Sox lineup. Whether it was Terry Francona, Bobby Valentine or John Farrell, the job was easy: Write Ellsbury’s name in the leadoff spot, and work from there.
Yet with Ellsbury now the leadoff hitter for the New York Yankees, the job of writing that lineup card becomes a bit more difficult for Farrell.
Early on in 2014, he’s already used three different players — Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, Grady Sizemore — in the leadoff spot, and that’s something the manager said is likely to continue throughout the year.
“The one thing we prioritize is on-base, and yet we’re still trying to generate that,” Farrell said prior to Tuesday’s loss to Texas. “We’re going to be in a situation where we mix and match as best we can, evident with the guys that are currently available. We’re going to see Jonny and Daniel in that spot, there might be a time or two where we put Grady in the leadoff spot. But we don’t have that prototypical guy right now.
The results in the small sample have been mixed. Nava has gone 3-for-20 with a .261 on-base percentage in five games as the leadoff hitter this season, well off his .303 batting average and .385 OBP last season. Nava found himself out of Tuesday night’s lineup completely, though Farrell didn’t express much concern about the slow start.
“I don’t think he’s changed his approach,” Farrell said of Nava. “At times, he’s hit into a little tough luck. On Sunday, he could have easily had three hits. He’s on base three different times [Monday night]. Last year was not a fluke in terms of his ability to get on base. I think there’s been a tendency of late at time to lift the ball a little bit, and that’s why you see a number of balls in the air, as there have been. And at the same time, it’s 30 at-bats. He’s trying to get into the flow of the season, as well.”
Gomes has gone 2-for-7 with two walks and four strikeouts as the leadoff man, while Sizmore went 0-for-4 with a walk in his only game at the top of the order.
Dustin Pedroia, who has exclusively batted second this season, does have experience in the leadoff spot. He has started 87 games there, putting up a .263 average and .324 OBP. Both of those numbers are well below his .306 average and .374 OBP in the two spot, and that’s a place from which Farrell doesn’t anticipate moving him.
“I like Dustin in the two-hole. It creates the middle-of-the-order continuity for the rest of the guys that are there,” Farrell said. “We’re looking to take advantage of the strengths that our current roster has to offer.”
That roster will have more to offer when Shane Victorino comes off the DL. Considering he batted second in 107 of his 117 starts last year, it’s likely he’ll be returning to that spot in the lineup, thereby bumping Pedroia down to the three spot.
Unless Farrell wants to put Victorino in the leadoff spot (he has started 216 games in his career atop the lineup), his return will still leave a question mark in the leadoff spot. Farrell also said in spring training that he’ll be reluctant to ask Sizmore, a leadoff hitter for much of the early part of his career, to carry the bulk of the load in the leadoff spot. While Sizemore may be the most enticing option in terms of history, he’ll still have to answer many questions about his ability to stay healthy before that becomes a real possibility.
Currently, the Red Sox rank 27th in MLB with a .161 batting average out of the leadoff spot, but they rank 18th in OBP at .316. Yet last year, the Red Sox ranked second and fourth, respectively, in those categories.
Farrell said that the team’s No. 1 goal in the leadoff spot is for guys to get on base, but early on in the season, the effort to replace Ellsbury at the top of the Sox lineup has been a largely fruitless quest.