Ellsbury leads off with Drew sidelined

Ellsbury leads off with Drew sidelined

OAKLAND -- A few days after Red Sox manager Terry Francona announced that rookie Jacoby Ellsbury would hit in the bottom portion of the order, the speedy outfielder was inserted into the leadoff spot for Tuesday's re-opener in Oakland.

No, Francona had not done an about-face. Ellsbury's insertion into the leadoff spot was more a by-product of J.D. Drew being out of the lineup as he recovers from a lower back strain.

With Drew out for one more day, Francona slid Kevin Youkilis into Drew's No. 6 spot. Dustin Pedroia, who usually leads off, subbed for Youkilis in the two-hole.

That left the speedy Ellsbury back at the top, where he starred for the Red Sox in Games 3 and 4 of the 2007 World Series against the Rockies.

Ellsbury started in right field with Coco Crisp getting the start in center.

"I came to the yard like I always do and looked at the lineup and that's where I was," said Ellsbury. "That's fine with me. I'm happy to lead off."

Francona was trying to balance thing out to account for Drew's absence.

"J.D's not in there. We're just trying to keep a little balance throughout the order," said Francona. "[Ellsbury's] done it before. We're trying to kind of patch things together so we can get a lineup we send out there more often than not. We can use his speed, and use Youk's good at-bats behind Mikey Lowell to try to keep the lineup nice and stretched out."

Because of his speed and hitting style, Ellsbury is a great fit for the leadoff spot and hit there for virtually all of his time in the Minor Leagues. However, Francona is trying to take some pressure off of the highly touted prospect by hitting him lower in the order at the start of the season.

"I think there's a difference between asking a guy to lead off every day and be accountable and get on base and not getting overwhelmed as opposed to [doing it] a night or two," Francona said. "He might be ready to do it now anyway. I think that's part of my responsibility not to give somebody too much."

Drew is expected to return to right field and make his 2008 debut on Wednesday when the Sox face Oakland's Rich Harden. Francona would not divulge whether Crisp or Ellsbury would start that game in center. Last week in Japan, Crisp made the start against Harden, while Ellsbury sat out.

Divvying up playing time between two starting-caliber center fielders remains a challenge for Francona.

"I don't know. I really don't know," Francona said. "I do know that we have a pretty good outfield with those four guys. I also know that it's probably, in their mind, not perfect. We'll communicate, we'll do the best we can to put a team out there that wins. Usually when you're winning you don't hear a whole lot of complaining. Again, that's our responsibility to communicate to people how we feel and why."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.