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Move was out of left field

Crawford sits, McDonald starts

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / April 30, 2011

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Red Sox manager Terry Francona has been looking for a way to get reserve outfielder Darnell McDonald into the lineup. It came at the expense of a struggling Carl Crawford.

The $142 million left fielder was on the bench for the second time in 13 games last night as McDonald started against the Mariners, going 0 for 2 with a walk in a 5-4 loss.

“I thought it would be a really good day to do that,’’ said Francona, who wanted to get another righthanded hitter in the lineup against Seattle lefthander Jason Vargas.

Crawford is hitting .160 with a .202 on-base percentage. Among qualified players, he has the lowest OBP in the majors and the fifth-lowest batting average. He has scored just six runs and has six RBIs in his first 23 games with the Sox.

Crawford was 7 for 34 on the team’s nine-game road trip, 1 for 12 in the final three games at Baltimore. Hitting coach Dave Magadan is focusing on mechanical issues with Crawford’s swing, specifically his footwork.

“If there’s one thing I know they’re talking about, it’s just getting ready sooner,’’ Francona said. “When it’s a rush, it’s a little bit harder to see the ball and to react. They’re trying to get him ready a little earlier.’’

Crawford has an exaggerated open stance, with his right foot touching the boundary of the batter’s box. That stance has worked well in previous years, but now he appears to be a split second late getting into a position to hit.

“People talk about your mechanics. Well, if you’re not seeing the ball, you can’t have good mechanics,’’ Francona said. “It all goes hand in hand.’’

Even when he is going well, Crawford is not a particularly patient hitter. But he is averaging only 3.61 pitches per plate appearance, among the fewest in baseball.

“I know he’s always been aggressive. When you’re throwing out 200 hits, that’s OK,’’ Francona said. “We don’t want guys to necessarily change. We want them to use their strengths. Everybody is a little bit different.’’

Crawford also spent some time on his defense before the game, taking balls off the Wall.

K zone Jacoby Ellsbury is having an odd season. He has four home runs and six doubles but also had struck out 24 times in 91 at-bats.

Ellsbury struck out in only 12.9 percent of his at-bats during his first four seasons. Now he’s fanning at a rate of 26.4 percent. That’s high for a leadoff hitter.

Still, Ellsbury has hit safely in eight games at 14 of 36 with seven runs scored and five RBIs, while striking out 10 times.

“The last week or so, he’s using the whole field. He’s getting on top of the ball when he hits it to left field,’’ Francona said. “He’s hitting a lot of line drives. It’s a short, quick stroke.’’

Francona attributed the strikeouts to Ellsbury working deeper into counts.

“I think they sometimes go in spurts,’’ Francona said. “He’s swung the bat so well. He’s taken some called third [strikes] and he’s had a few swinging. But he’s had a pretty good week. I don’t think he’ll be a real high strikeout guy when it’s all said and done.’’

Coming up empty The Red Sox are 10 of 53 (.189) with 19 strikeouts and two extra-base hits with a runner on third base and fewer than two outs.

“We have not been real good at it so far. It’s something we drastically want to improve on,’’ Francona said. “It’s not just the numbers because I think numbers will go up and down and in between, but our approach. We really need to start staying in the middle of the field a little bit better.’’

Kevin Youkilis (0 for 8, six strikeouts); David Ortiz (0 for 6, two double-play grounders); and Crawford (1 for 7) have been the biggest offenders.

“They’re going to pitch you backwards, they’re going to throw a lot of off-speed in fastball counts and we’ve got a lot of guys pulling off or pulling balls foul and some strikeouts, so we need to start staying in the middle of the field better,’’ Francona said. “That’s something that’s talked about a lot.’’

Remy still out NESN analyst Jerry Remy missed his third consecutive game with a case of the flu. Peter Gammons filled in last night. “Got some medicine. Doc says I should be back to my old self tomorrow. I will be watching the Red Sox at home like everybody else tonight,’’ Remy posted on Twitter yesterday . . . Youkilis, who missed the last two innings of Thursday night’s game in Baltimore because of a sore left hip, played all nine innings . . . A streak of eight games without an error for the Sox ended when McDonald fumbled a ball he retrieved off the wall in the first inning . . . Adrian Gonzalez extended his hitting streak to six games with a single in the first inning. He has hit safely in 12 of the last 13 games . . . Mike Cameron has hit two or more home runs in a game 16 times. Last night was his first such game since Sept. 21, 2009, when he was with Milwaukee . . . Seattle has won four straight. Vargas, who went seven innings for the win, snapped a streak of 13 starts without a victory and nine straight decisions with a loss.

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

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