Ellsbury thriving in new lineup spot

Ellsbury thriving in new lineup spot

WASHINGTON -- Though Jacoby Ellsbury has been a leadoff hitter just about his whole life, he has looked entirely comfortable since moving out of that spot just over three weeks ago.

On May 31, Red Sox manager Terry Francona opted to move Ellsbury to the lower third of the batting order. This wasn't because Ellsbury was slumping. In fact, he had just had a 22-game hitting streak snapped three days earlier.

But Francona wanted some more balance in the lineup, so he moved two of his best on-base players to the 1-2 spots in Dustin Pedroia and J.D. Drew.

Since Ellsbury moved down, he has been an on-base machine. While hitting mostly seventh since May 31, Ellsbury has produced a .449 on-base percentage.

"It kind of played to some of our strengths," said Francona. "You have Pedey and J.D. getting on all over the place. At least that's the idea. Jacoby has been able to be a little more aggressive on the bases, down where he's hitting. He gives protection to the guy in front of him, because he's swinging the bat so well. There's a lot of good things he does. And we have the ability to move him up and hit him second some nights. It's been valuable for us."

In Tuesday's 11-3 thumping of the Nationals, Ellsbury went 4-for-4 with two triples and three RBIs.

"I think the biggest thing is no matter where you're hitting in the lineup you have to be comfortable," said Ellsbury. "My biggest thing is getting quality ABs. I try to do that every single time. I'm trying to drive the ball. Not trying to lift the ball, but trying to drive it. That's been happening lately."

However, Ellsbury insists he hasn't changed anything about his approach since leaving the top spot in the batting order.

"I'm just swinging the ball real well and making good contact," said Ellsbury.

"He was leading off, and then he gets put down to the seventh slot," said Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay. "It wasn't really a demotion. It was just a little shakeup. He didn't have any gripe with it. He just went about his business the same way. He's been getting on base a ton form that spot. I give him credit for just going about his business. Some guys might get taken out of that spot and take it personally and go in the other direction. He's embraced it."

30 rocks
With a sixth-inning steal in the Red Sox's 11-3 victory over the Nationals on Tuesday night, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury became just the fourth player in club history to reach the 30-steal mark at least twice in his career.
Tris Speaker1909-10, 1912-14
Harry Hooper1910-11
Johnny Damon2002-03
Jacoby Ellsbury2008-09

And Ellsbury also continues to run wild. He now has 30 stolen bases. Ellsbury is the fourth player in Red Sox history to reach that mark twice in his time with the team. He joins Tris Speaker (five times), Harry Hooper (twice) and Johnny Damon (twice).

Ellsbury and the Red Sox hold a five-game lead in the American League East entering Wednesday's contest with the Nationals.

Pitching matchup
BOS: LHP Jon Lester (5-6, 4.69 ERA)
Coming off a stretch in which he became the first lefty in Red Sox history to strike out 10 or more batters in three straight starts, Lester wasn't nearly as effective last Thursday against the Marlins at Fenway Park. Florida peppered the 25-year-old southpaw with eight hits over five-plus frames, including a pair of second-inning home runs by Ronny Paulino and Dan Uggla. Lester shined in one previous outing against the Nationals, fanning 10 over six innings of one-run ball in the third start of his Major League career.

WSH: RHP Craig Stammen (1-2, 4.76 ERA)
Win No. 1 was quite impressive for Stammen, who went into Yankee Stadium last week and shut out the Bronx Bombers in 6 1/3 innings. A control pitcher, Stammen did not walk a batter and struck out two. Manager Manny Acta has mentioned that with the Nationals' defense improving, a pitcher like Stammen can throw his sinker with more confidence. As he showed Thursday in New York, Stammen is at his best when he's pitching to contact, as long as that sinkerball is down in the zone.

Of Bay's 19 homers, only three have been solo shots. ... The Red Sox have won seven of their past eight on the road. ... David Ortiz is hitting .333 with two doubles, five homers and nine RBIs in his past 14 games.

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Up next
• Thursday: Red Sox (John Smoltz, 3-2, 2.57 in 2008) at Nationals (Jordan Zimmermann, 2-3, 5.03), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Friday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 8-3, 3.74) at Braves (Jair Jurrjens, 5-5, 2.89), 7:30 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 9-3, 4.47) at Braves (Javier Vazquez, 5-6, 3.18), 4 p.m. ET

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