Punto leadoff? Bobby: Number's nothing

April, 8, 2012
4/08/12
9:55
AM ET
DETROIT -- Well, that didn’t take long.

Two games into the season, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine is shaking up the Red Sox lineup, which has produced two runs so far, none in a 10-0 defeat by the Tigers on Saturday.

For the first time in nearly a year, Jacoby Ellsbury will start in a spot other than leadoff in the Sox batting order. Ellsbury, who batted ninth in a game last April 21, will bat second against Tigers right-hander Matt Scherzer on Sunday afternoon, with Dustin Pedroia dropping down to the 3-hole, Adrian Gonzalez hitting cleanup and David Ortiz fifth.

Nick Punto, Darnell McDonald and Kelly Shoppach all are making their first starts of the season.

“Getting some guys their first starts of the year and I think we’ll be able to score some runs with it,’’ Valentine said. “Hope so.’’

The Sox's new leadoff man? No, not the typical suspects, like Pedroia or Mike Aviles. It will be Punto, who in 44 previous games as a leadoff man (40 starts) is batting .169, by far his worst average at any spot in the batting order.

Last season, Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa started Punto eight times at leadoff. He responded with three hits in his first two games, but went 1-for-22 in his last six starts at the top spot.

Valentine said he gives those numbers no weight.

“None,’’ he said. “I think he’s going to hit .260 in the leadoff spot, so he’s got a lot of hits coming. I don’t think it has anything to do with it.
Personally, I don’t think it has anything to do with it.’’

So what does Valentine like about Punto hitting leadoff?

“Just want to see what it looks like,’’ he said. “See if it gives us a little spark. He’s a sparky kind of player, battles everyone.’’

Meanwhile, Ellsbury has not batted in the 2-hole since June 14, 2009, when he hit behind Julio Lugo in an interleague game in Philadelphia against the Phillies. Ellsbury has batted second eight times in his big-league career, with six starts, and is batting .304 (7-for-23) in those games.

Perhaps an even bigger surprise is this: McDonald is getting a start against a right-hander, replacing Cody Ross in left field, and batting sixth. Last season McDonald batted just .189 (10-for-53) against right-handers with more strikeouts (13) than hits (10), and Terry Francona started him just three times against righties.

Valentine said during spring training he planned to employ a variety of lineups, and indeed looked at Ellsbury in the 2-hole in exhibition play. And McDonald was the team’s hottest hitter in spring training, batting .447 with a 1.327 OPS, playing against lefties and righties.

“Most of his at-bats in spring were against right-handers,’’ Valentine said. “I figured if he’s ever ready to start against a right-hander, it’s now.’’
He also has said he likes to get his bench players participating early. Shoppach, who got his first hit as a Red Sox (0-for-15 his first go-round) as a pinch hitter Saturday afternoon, will start behind the plate in place of Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Kevin Youkilis, hitless in his first eight at-bats while striking out in four consecutive plate appearances over the first two games, is sitting in place of Punto.

“I haven’t had good at-bats, a couple, one I disagreed on a call, that’s just how it works,’’ Youkilis said on Saturday. “One hundred sixty-two games, you’re going to have two bad games. Hopefully these are the two bad ones, things start clicking well, and I start helping this team win.’’

Unlike Francona, who made a practice of telling players the night before whether they were starting the next day, players did not know until they arrived at the ballpark Sunday.

Here’s the lineup:

Nick Punto, 3B

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF

Dustin Pedroia, 2B

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B

David Ortiz, DH

Darnell McDonald, LF

Ryan Sweeney, RF

Mike Aviles, SS

Kelly Shoppach, C

Clay Buchholz -- RHP

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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