There’s a hex on the Red Sox leadoff spot. That’s one explanation. Consider these on-base percentages:
As a leadoff hitter: .320
As a non-leadoff hitter: .388
As a leadoff hitter: .299
As a non-leadoff hitter: .381
As a leadoff hitter: .264
As a non-leadoff hitter: .425
That helps explain why the Red Sox enter tonight with a .307 on-base percentage from the leadoff slot, 27th in the major leagues.
“It seems like everybody we hit in that leadoff spot, that’s when they decide to quit getting on base,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.
There’s another explanation. For whatever reason, the Sox have not found a leadoff hitter this season. Tonight, they’ll try Ellsbury, the player they figured would top the lineup all year long on Opening Day.
“First hitter of the game, you’re the first guy seeing somebody,” Francona said. “Once the game starts, I don’t think it matters, particularly. The first hitter of the game, you don’t want to swing at the first pitch, make an out, and then everybody goes, ‘Hey, how’s his breaking ball?’ And then you don’t know. Johnny Damon was the best. He could come back and give a whole scouting report, because he saw about 10 pitches. And it does help.”
Batting first clearly affected Pedroia, who was not his typically aggressive self. Ellsbury has made a point, he says, of not changing no matter where he hits.
“It doesn’t really bother me,” Ellsbury said. “I guess from the standpoint of me being there pretty much my whole life. But as far as my approach, it doesn’t really change.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing. They told me just keep on doing what you’re doing. They’ve never talked to me about walking more or anything like that. For me, they kind of wanted me to do the same thing at the bottom of the order — just have quality ABs, basically.”
Interestingly, Ellsbury said the switch would change his approach on the basepaths. He’ll be more selective in his running attempts with sluggers coming up behind him as opposed to players who are more prone to hit singles and thus make the risk of stealing a base more worthwhile.
As for Drew, his 14 games at leadoff might not be the last we see of him at the top of the order. His 0-for-12 series in Toronto forced Francona to move him down, but perhaps only for the time being.
“I love J.D. hitting first,” Francona said. “I think he brings exactly what we need. But I don’t know how comfortable he is, and he’s not getting on base these last couple days.”
A group of reporters approached Drew to ask him about the change at about 4:45 p.m. local time, half an hour before batting practice. He had yet to check the lineup and didn’t realize he was batting sixth until he was asked about it.
“OK. I probably expected it,” Drew said. “I’ve been scuffling a little bit trying to get things going. I think the big key is just seeing the ball. They’ve pitched me tough.”
About leading off, “I never have been in love with it,” Drew said. “But I have been able to fill the role from time to time.”
The Sox sure need someone to.