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Red Sox Notebook

Leading question in camp

Francona would like Ellsbury to bat first

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / February 14, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox manager Terry Francona is in no rush to reveal how all the pieces will fit together in what should be an imposing batting order.

“We’ll get to that. I know that’s the fun stuff in Boston. But it’ll work itself out,’’ he said.

But Francona did reveal yesterday that Jacoby Ellsbury is his choice to lead off, assuming the center fielder is up to it.

Ellsbury played only 18 games last season because of fractured ribs, an injury initially sustained in April and aggravated several times after that. It’s uncertain what kind of player he will be after what was essentially a year off.

“He’s healthy now. He says he’s doing everything without being limited, which is good because that had been a while,’’ Francona said. “It’ll be fun to watch Ells. A year ago this time we’re talking about him playing left field, being our leadoff hitter and being a game-changer. Now we have the game-changer in left field [in Carl Crawford] and can move Ells back over to center and hopefully allow him to continue his development.

“He missed a lot of time. Early on, does that slow him down? We’ll see. If it does, we have ways to take the pressure off him. We can hit him lower in the lineup. If he’s feeling good, we’d love him to lead off. If not, we can protect him a little bit.’’

The Red Sox have leadoff options if Ellsbury is not ready. Marco Scutaro handled the job 134 times last season. Dustin Pedroia and Crawford have in the past, but would prefer not to.

Already an injury As he enters the final year of his contract, right fielder J.D. Drew is already dealing with an injury.

There is lingering soreness in his upper left hamstring, a problem that dogged Drew for much of last season. Although the injury is not considered serious, Drew has been examined by Dr. James Andrews and members of the Red Sox medical staff.

“It’s something that he has voiced some concern about,’’ Francona said. “I don’t think he’s real concerned about it. But it has been there. We’ll certainly monitor it.’’

The Red Sox have good depth in the outfield with Mike Cameron and Darnell McDonald on the roster.

Mourning a mentor Francona had a close relationship with former major league manager Chuck Tanner, who died Friday at the age of 82.

Tanner played with Tito Francona, the manager’s father, and the two remained good friends. When Tanner became manager of the Pirates, he would throw batting practice to the younger Francona at Three Rivers Stadium.

“Chuck had an amazing way of making you feel like you were the most important person in the world,’’ said Francona, who recalled Tanner comforting him at the funeral of his mother. “Whether it was a room or a field, he’d put that arm around you and you felt like you were the most important person. I loved him.’’

Get stretched Along with the five members of their rotation, the Sox have six other pitchers in camp who will be stretched out as starters. That group includes Tim Wakefield and Felix Doubront. That process should be easy, at least for a while. The Sox have 18 games scheduled between Feb. 26 and March 11. At that point, adjustments will have to be made . . . Lefty reliever Dennys Reyes is having visa issues and may be a day or two late to camp. Alfredo Aceves is expected to be on time, but may have to leave camp to get his visa . . . The Sox have purchased the contract of 24-year-old catcher Matt Kramer from Sioux City of the independent American Association. A 2008 graduate of Harvard, Kramer will be converted into a pitcher . . . John Lackey has changed from No. 40 to 41. In terms of the new players, Aceves (91), Matt Albers (32), Crawford (13), Adrian Gonzalez (28), Bobby Jenks (52), Andrew Miller (30), and Dan Wheeler (36) all have their numbers . . . Although pitchers and catchers reported, there was little action on the field beyond Daisuke Matsuzaka throwing 70 pitches in the bullpen. Physicals are today and the first workout is tomorrow.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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