When Jacoby Ellsbury hit his slump, things didn’t head in a friendly direction for the young rookie.
We shouldn’t have been surprised by it though; we had no right to be surprised by it. Ellsbury, while looking like a pro in ’07, is still a rookie, which means that he was probably going to hit a slump eventually.
Pitchers were going to figure out his swing, and start pitching to him to appropriately shut him down. He hit a “steal drought,” and it almost seemed like Ellsbury just couldn’t hit anymore. The pressure of being a lead-off hitter probably wasn’t helping, so when Francona moved Ellsbury down to the number nine spot in the order, it was probably for the best.
But, due to the young rookie’s sudden offensive resurgence, I’m guessing a lot of fans have forgotten the slump – at least, the fair-weather ones have. The real fans are watching him, hoping for the young kid to work his way completely through this slump, because we know that his speed is a valuable and potentially game-changing asset at the top of the lineup. On Tuesday’s game, he had several hits and two stolen bases, and we started to see some of the “old” Ellsbury. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced.
The hits that Ellsbury had were all on the ground, and while they were hit hard, they were still on the ground. I wanted to see him getting the bat under the ball before I was entirely convinced that he was breaking out of the slump, and that it just wasn’t a poorly played ground ball. Apparently, Ellsbury wanted to show me that he can hit in the air, because in tonight’s game, he sent a single into the air, and even more impressive, a three-run shot over the centerfield wall. That was what I was looking for. Not necessarily the homerun – though that was quite impressive – but moreso the ball getting hit into the air.
Of course, with the three-run shot, Jed Lowrie’s fifth inning rocket of a double that gave him two more RBI wasn’t quite as important. But that double looked very handy when the Royals came back to make it 3-2 (Jed scored on a David Ortiz single). Lowrie continues to impress me. He’s been hitting steadily, with a six-game hitting streak tucked nicely under his belt and eleven RBI to go with that streak. As for his fielding, he’s been steady, with the occasional flash of leather (Tuesday night’s diving grab, for instance).
Says Lowrie, “I feel comfortable right now...it’s just a bonus right now that I’m playing and I’m contributing as much as I am. It’s a learning experience.” Quite the experience, I’d say. With all of Red Sox Nation watching him, he’s performed like he’s been at shortstop all this season, and a few seasons before.
There have been several people who have asked me if I think that Lowrie will stay at short when Lugo returns from the DL. While this is a tricky question to answer, as Lugo’s contract and the money they’re paying him may come into play, I do believe that Francona will keep Lowrie up as long as the rookie keeps getting the bat on the ball in the sorts of key situations that he’s been doing thus far.
In the final game versus the Royals, Dustin Pedroia got a day off (Pedroia has played in 110 of 113 games this season), which meant that someone else had to take over that number two spot. Enter Mr. Lowrie. Francona decided to demonstrate his faith in the rookie shortstop’s hitting abilities by putting him in the number two hole—but not permanently.
“I don't want him to hit second for the whole season,” said Francona when asked about Lowrie.
“I think he's done a great job. I [also] think that every time some young kid does a great job, New England either wants to put him in the Hall of Fame or hit him second. It's probably just not the right thing to do. Tonight, he'll probably be fine. I just don't think that's in his best interest right now.”
They’re clearly monitoring Lowrie’s progress, not wanting to rush him too fast into the major league level, which was arguably a problem with former Sox reliever Craig Hansen (Hansen was traded along with Brandon Moss to the Pirates in a three way deal that involved Manny Ramirez heading to the Dodgers and sent Jason Bay to the Sox). Hansen was brought up too fast too soon, and the Sox management seem determined not to repeat their mistakes. An admirable cause, to be sure, but when Lowrie has as many RBI in 34 games as Lugo has in 82 games (22), it raises the question as to which man should be manning the gap between third and second.
Granted, Lugo has the capability to steal bases, but Lowrie has shown flashes of speed. In the series versus the Royals, he belted another triple (the first coming in a game at Fenway against the Oakland A’s) and demonstrated his speed by simply flying around the bases. While he’ll never be an Ellsbury in terms of SBs (Ellsbury now has an AL-leading thirty-seven on the season), he’s proven to be an effective runner.
Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor, http://www.sittingstill.net/