Jacoby Ellsbury’s timely hitting on Sunday could be portentous for him and the Red Sox, not only because he drove in the winning run, but because he jumped on the first pitch instead of working the count to a called strike three.
Ellsbury is touted as a lead-off man, and he may actually prove his worth in that role this year. Until now he has been an easy out at the top of the batting order. Most disturbing is his taking the called third strike, when he should be more aggressive, keeping pitchers off balance with swings at the outside pitch and going to left. That was signature Ellsbury in 2011.
Ellsbury should ignore the critics who whine about his power outage. Extra bases should be taken with his feet, not his swing. A lead-off guy gets on base and moves along by whatever means possible. The Red Sox have longed for this kind of player throughout their history, and I am too young to remember when they had a good one in this role.
In a year of surprises, Ellsbury has been the singular disappointment, and if this moment signals his return as a clutch, havoc-producing lead-off guy, then my final prediction for 2013 will be confirmed. Earlier I predicted that a healthy Ellsbury would have a breakout year , and that the Sox should sign him at whatever the cost by the end of the season.
The local wisdom has been to let Ellsbury go to free agency, since Scott Boras will have no sentiment about his remaining with the Red Sox. But maybe Ellsbury will see things differently.
Back in March I argued that Ellsbury might accept a competitive contract offer from the Sox because:
- He has a defined role as a lead-off hitter and center fielder with the Red Sox
- The fans love him; he brings a level of excitement that no other player brings to Fenway
- John Farrell has known him since his rookie year; he won’t ask him to do what he can’t do
- He has team mates who have come through the system with him: Pedroia, Lester, Bucholz
My conclusion was, if Ellsbury made it to the All-Star game without a major injury, the Sox should start the campaign to sign him. Give him credit and treat him like a life-time Red Sox player like Dustin Pedroia. John Farrell knows how to do this, because he touts players in the press to show his confidence in them.
One clutch hit does not make a season, but the way it happened portends well for the Red Sox center fielder. Staying aggressive and going to left field will make him an extraordinary threat to the toughest pitchers in early innings and late. We already know he can steal and run for extra bases. Now he just needs to get to first early and often.
Then let the Red Sox Front Office do the same.