Varitek slides down to No. 9 in order
Francona says catcher's new spot isn't based on performance
CHICAGO -- Saturday marked the first time in Terry Francona's tenure as Red Sox manager that he wrote a lineup card that had Jason Varitek in the ninth spot. The last time Varitek hit ninth was in 2003, when Grady Little was managing.
Francona indicated it was more a case of lineup balance than the catcher's ineffectiveness on offense this season.
Once things are just as Francona wants, Jacoby Ellsbury will be back in the leadoff spot and J.D. Drew will be in the middle of the order instead of hitting first.
But Francona doesn't want to put Ellsbury back up top until he's confident that the center fielder is in enough of a groove to stay there for good. In recent games, Ellsbury had batted ninth and Drew first, and Francona wasn't crazy about that alignment.
Enter the switch-hitting Varitek, who was sandwiched between them on Saturday.
"Since we had Ellsbury ninth and Drew first, rather than have our fastest guy get stuck behind our catcher, we'll do this," Francona said. "And if they want to bring in a lefty, it seems to make some sense."
As far as Varitek goes, Francona sees some improvement from the captain, who entered Saturday's game with a .221 average and had hit .316 in the past seven games.
"I think he feels a little bit better," Francona said. "I know there's been a lot of times he'll come back to the bench, even on a ball that wasn't a hit, and he'll say, 'I feel better,' which is good. He's taking some better passes, more consistent. Sometimes, guys, as cold as they get, they get just as hot."
Varitek isn't the only established Boston player trying to get back to his level. The same goes for David Ortiz, who entered the night hitting .249 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs.
Since coming off the disabled list on July 25, Ortiz is hitting .240 with one homer and seven RBIs in 50 at-bats. But he has struggled mightily of late, going 2-for-20 in the five games that led into Saturday.
"You know what I think is hard for David is, he expects to be in form now, even though everybody else is in form," Francona said. "The pitchers, they're where they're at. The hitters, they're into the grind of the season and he's not. That's OK. We'll live with that. If he stays at it and he does what he's supposed to do, you're going to look up and he's going to do what he does. You just have to stay with him and let him do it."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.