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Will Sox come bearing gifts for Ellsbury?

4/10/2014

NEW YORK -- When the Red Sox visited Los Angeles last summer to play the Dodgers, all the principals in 2012’s big trade -- Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett -- took a pass on speaking with the Boston media. (The ever-accommodating Nick Punto was the lone exception).

When the Sox open a four-game series Thursday night in the Bronx against the Yankees, the first order of business will be a pregame news conference scheduled by the Bombers with Jacoby Ellsbury, the former Red Sox center fielder and leadoff man who played an integral role in two World Series titles in his seven seasons with the Sox.

Ellsbury is off to a hot start with the Yankees, posting a .364/.417/.455/.871 slash line with a league-leading four stolen bases in five attempts. But what may come as the biggest surprise to Sox fans is the way he is being used by New York manager Joe Girardi. For the past five games, Ellsbury has occupied the No. 3 hole in the Yankees' order, with Brett Gardner batting leadoff.

The move was triggered by the right hamstring strain that put Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira on the disabled list. Ellsbury had six hits in his first 13 at-bats in the 3-hole before going hitless in four trips in the Yankees’ 5-4 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday.

"We liked what we saw," Girardi told reporters earlier this week. "We like Gardy at the top of the order, as well. It just gives us some options, and without Tex in the lineup, we have to change a little bit."

The Sox saw Ellsbury in spring training in Tampa, but they may come bearing gifts this weekend. He wasn’t present, of course, when the Sox received their World Series rings last week at Fenway Park; it would be appropriate if they gave it to him here this weekend. Ellsbury told New York reporters he’d heard a rumor to that effect.

Sox manager John Farrell has experimented with three different leadoff men so far this season, with little success in the early going. Sox leadoff men have posted a .176/.333/.206/.539 slash line so far this season; the .539 OPS ranks 28th in baseball. They’ve combined to go 6-for-34 with a double and five walks; one of those hits was a pinch single by A.J. Pierzynski.

Daniel Nava has made five starts in the leadoff spot and is 3-for-20 (.150). He has drawn a walk and been hit by a pitch twice. Jonny Gomes is 2-for-9 (.222) with three walks in his three starts leading off, while Grady Sizemore was hitless in four trips with a walk in his one start. Nava has not gotten on track anywhere he has hit in the lineup, going 4-for-32 (.125) with a walk and seven strikeouts.

In Wednesday’s 4-2 win over Texas, Nava struck out in all three of his plate appearances while batting in the sixth spot in the order. Last season, Nava hit safely in 13 of the team’s first 15 games, and his batting average never dropped lower than .282 in a season in which he posted a slash line of .303/.385/.445/.831. His high on-base average, Farrell said, made him a logical candidate to lead off.