Ellsbury dealt first big league curve
Boston speedster working through prolonged batting slump
SEATTLE -- When Jacoby Ellsbury arrived in Boston last year, it was almost like he had a magic wand attached to him. Barely any Major League experience? No problem.
Ellsbury merely hit .361 in September, the heat of the pennant race.
World Series pressure? Hardly. Ellsbury played with the joy of a kid on the playground, hitting .438 in fueling the Red Sox to a four-game sweep over the Rockies.
In other words, what Ellsbury is going through now is his first dose of Major League reality.
The left-handed-hitting leadoff man, entering Monday night, had hit .212 over his past 28 games, at which point his average went from .289 to .262. As the Red Sox were swept in Anaheim over the weekend, Ellsbury was powerless to prevent it, delivering one hit in 13 at-bats.
"I've always known that this is not an easy sport," said Ellsbury. "There will be times where guys will be hot and they'll make it look easy. You can ask anybody, it's not easy by any means. It's a humbling sport. I look at it, to have great success, anyone goes through bad times. It happens. It's just a matter of being confident in your abilities and knowing that you've hit your whole life and it's a matter of time."
The Red Sox hope the time comes soon. With David Ortiz slated to return soon, the team is in desperate need of offense. When Ellsbury gets on base, the whole lineup seems to feed off him.
Ortiz's absence limits the changes manager Terry Francona can make. Once Ortiz gets back, Francona could have the flexibility to drop Ellsbury toward the bottom of the order and go with a 1-2 punch of Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. But the way things are aligned right now, the Red Sox need the production of Youkilis in the middle of the order.
Coco Crisp, another leadoff option, is also in a funk, with no hits in his past 20 at-bats entering Monday. Speedy shortstop Julio Lugo is on the disabled list. In other words, there isn't much Francona can do at the moment but stick with Ellsbury.
"[The media] asks about changing the lineup," Francona said. "It's a very legitimate question to ask. We talk about it ourselves. If you don't have something better, I really think the picking out of a hat thing, unless your team is so tight and so nervous, I just don't know that it makes sense."
Besides, Ellsbury has the gift of speed, which lends itself to ending slumps quickly.
"The one thing he has going for him is that he's so fast," Francona said. "If he even mishits some balls, if he uses the whole field, bunts, he'll run into some hits. That will happen. He'll get on base."
And just like when Ellsbury was on fire last year, his demeanor has been even-keeled during his slump.
"I've looked at the film," said Ellsbury. "The swing is the same. I'm juts trying to work my way out of it."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.