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The Sox' crowded outfield

Posted by Adam Kilgore, Globe Staff  September 10, 2008 07:07 PM

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One thing about the Red Sox outfield situation at the moment is clear: When you sit a guy who’s batting .483 over the last 24 games, you have some options. And J.D. Drew isn’t even back in the lineup yet.

Coco Crisp, the hottest hitter in the majors, is on the bench tonight, making room for Jacoby Ellsbury and his not-so-stiff-anymore quadriceps muscle. Ellsbury has sat two of the of the past three games, and Terry Francona wanted him in the lineup.

Francona has proved deft at handling these kind of delicate playing-time situations, and he’ll a welcome challenge now, trying to give enough at bats to Mark Kotsay, Crisp, and Ellsbury.

“We can do a lot of things,” Francona said. “We’re going to have a lot of games in a short span, so I don’t think playing time right away is going to be a problem with anybody. We have 18 games left. That’s not something I really worry about. The group we have will handle going in one direction real well.

“Tonight is a good example. We’re not playing Coco tonight. Just need to get Ellsbury in there. Coco handled it. I think he wanted to play really bad. If I was Coco right now, I’d want to play really bad. He’s handling it and that’s what we expect. But also, it helps”

All three will likely receive playing time elsewhere – Kotsay can play first base, and you would imagine Drew will get some days off to ease his return, which could clear the way for Crisp or Ellsbury to take right. Still, Francona will primarily decide who plays center.

Compelling arguments can be made for all, depending on the night’s pitching match-up. Crisp (.290 AVG, 7 HR, 39 RBIs, 98 OPS+) is riding an 11-game hitting streak, plays Gold Glove-caliber defense, and is a switch hitter; Ellsbury (.263, 7, 43, 79) also plays stellar defense, owns an American League-leading 45 stolen bases, and was an absolute monster last year down the stretch; Kotsay (.288, 6, 46, 101) has by far the best arm and the most experience.

First pitch is moments away. Updates will come all night long.

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