But when Valentine wrote out his first official lineup card on Thursday, Ellsbury was back in his familiar leadoff role.
It created an unusual and enticing dynamic in which the American League Most Valuable Player Award winner -- Tigers righty Justin Verlander -- would face the runner-up in the very first at-bat of the season.
"Obviously we talk about the lineup as a group," said Valentine. "It seems like in this grouping he looks really good being there, and I also thought it would be apropos for you guys [in the media] to write about the number one and number two in the MVP voting facing each other on a first pitch here in Detroit this year. And he liked it, too. Talking to him, he kind of relished the idea."
In his first at-bat, Ellsbury flied out to left field.
The big question for Ellsbury is whether he can duplicate the monster season he had in 2011, when he broke out with unusual power numbers for a leadoff man, belting 32 homers to go along with 105 RBIs.
How can Ellsbury stay at that level?
"By taking it one pitch at a time," Valentine said. "Obviously today, at the end of today, he's not going to have the stats that he had at the end of last year. And, you know, the trap everyone always falls into is answering all those questions. 'How are you going to do better this year than you did last year?' You start thinking that you have to hit a home run every time and a triple the next time and two doubles and steal bases, drive in the runs, all at once, and that's not how it happens."
There were no real surprises in the rest of the lineup. Dustin Pedroia stayed in the No. 2 spot, with Adrian Gonzalez batting third. David Ortiz hit cleanup, with Kevin Youkilis in the five-hole. The Ortiz-Youkilis alignment could flip-flop when the Red Sox are facing pitchers not quite as nasty as Verlander.