After 51 straight starts, Ellsbury gets brief respite

After 51 straight starts, Ellsbury gets brief respite

ST. PETERSBURG -- After a string of 51 consecutive starts, Jacoby Ellsbury got a partial night off in the Red Sox's 4-2 win over the Rays on Thursday.

However, the respite was not Ellsbury's idea.

"You know what, he wanted to play," said manager Terry Francona. "I just thought he's been beating himself up and he's going to get in late. I just thought it would be a good night. I wanted to play [Mike Cameron] and [Darnell McDonald], and I just think overall it's in his best interest. I'm glad the fact that he wanted to play. I kind of had to wrestle with it a little bit, because he's doing so well. I think it will be good for him."

Ellsbury, who played just 18 games last year because of left rib woes, has responded well to this year's workload. Aside from Adrian Gonzalez, he is the only Red Sox player who had participated in the team's first 67 games. Ellsbury was out of the lineup for three days earlier in the season when he was slumping, but he had started every game since April 20.

"I feel good," Ellsbury said. "It's the same thing anybody else is going through, playing this many games. I can't complain. I tried to plead with them to be in the lineup tonight."

With the Red Sox holding a 3-2 lead in the eighth, Ellsbury flied out while pinch-hitting for Cameron.

The left-handed-hitting leadoff man has given the Red Sox a big boost this season, hitting .314 with seven homers, 33 RBIs and 24 stolen bases.

"He's been tremendous," said Francona. "He wants to play every day. You can tell. He's done everything we could have asked. It's impressive. I don't think it's any coincidence that we're playing better. He's setting the table, he's driving runs in, he's playing defense, he's doing everything."

With Ellsbury out of the mix, McDonald led off and played center. Cameron filled in for J.D. Drew, batting eighth and playing right.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.