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Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Midday report: Searching for Ellsbury

By Gordon Edes

TAMPA -- Good morning from Room 809 in Tampa, where I woke up grateful that I didn’t switch the channel when it was 4-1, Leafs, looking for reruns of “Texas Car Wars” on the Discovery Channel.

Judging by my Twitter account, plenty of Red Sox players watched the Bruins’ epic comeback, too, although some gutless clowns twisted a gracious gesture from Joel Hanrahan, who tweeted out “Wowwww what a comeback!!! #bruins #bostonstrong", into an excuse to hurl insults at a pitcher facing season-ending surgery. Almost makes a man hope for the day that Hanrahan comes back and closes out a Game 7 against the Red Sox in Fenway Park, although Hanrahan is too classy to voice that response himself.

Is it too much to wish for a time when social media ceases to be a cesspool for the lowest common denominator among us? I genuinely enjoy the opportunity to interact with readers that Twitter and other vehicles provide us, and many of my followers have made me laugh, smile, reflect with their comments, observations, compliments and critiques. But these same tools are too often used for more distasteful purposes as well.

Jacoby Ellsbury
With leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury struggling, the Red Sox are having trouble scoring runs.
OK, the soapbox is put away. By now, Red Sox manager John Farrell and his coaches are either on their way to The Trop or already there, preparing for the start of a three-game series against the Rays that begins a three-city, nine-game trip. The Sox have lost 8 of their last 10, including series losses to the Twins (3 of 4) and Jays (2 of 3) at home. The Sox swept the Rays last month in Fenway Park, but Tampa Bay has won a season-best five straight and have gone over .500 (19-18) for the first time this season.

When the Rays left Boston, first baseman James Loney, who had played the last six weeks of 2012 with the Sox after coming in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, was batting .172, suggesting that the Sox had correctly figured there was little reason to explore whether Loney wanted to stay in Boston. He had hit just .230 with a .574 OPS in 30 games with the Sox.

But Loney caught fire in Baltimore, with back-to-back three-hit games, and in the 25 games since the Rays faced the Sox, he is batting .450 (36 for 80) with 9 doubles, 3 home runs and 16 RBIs, and begins play tonight as the American League’s leading hitter with a .376 average.

Loney told the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin he’s mighty glad to be here.

"I think that it's happened for a reason," Loney said. "I think it's great for me to be in this situation. This team, this organization, I'm glad it happened. I feel like the change was going to be good for me last year. I'm definitely blessed to be here and be in this situation.

"I just think the whole environment is better here. You have the right type of leaders here. You got the right type of guys. And you know, it's just a good atmosphere that we have."

Loney had a handful of at-bats against John Lackey, who pitches for the Red Sox Tuesday night, in interleague play, when Loney was with the Dodgers and Lackey the Angels. In his last at-bat against Lackey, on June 21, 2009, Loney hit a home run.

The Red Sox have scored 3 or fewer runs in 15 of their first 38 games, and are 4-11 in those games. Projected over a full season, that puts them on pace for 64 such games; in 2011, they had 55 3-runs-or-fewer games.

Scoring has been problematic during their recent slide. They’ve been held to three or fewer runs six times in this 2-8 skid, and have scored 33 runs in all, an average of 3.3 a game, with an on-base percentage of .315, well below their season OBP of .342.

The team could use a catalyst, especially at the top of the order, where with nearly a quarter of the season gone, Jacoby Ellsbury has produced at a level well below his peak performances when healthy. Ellsbury’s batting line is .257/.311/.365/.676, and he has just one home run in 180 plate appearances.

Of the 16 players with enough plate appearances to qualify, Ellsbury ranks 15th in OPS among leadoff hitters and 15th in on-base average. His OPS is 219 percentage points behind the Dodgers’ leadoff hitter, one Carl Crawford (.896 OPS, .388 on-base average).

Ellsbury is batting just .139 (5 for 36) in his last 8 games, with 2 runs scored. And with Shane Victorino bruising his ribs Sunday, which could affect what has been a hot bat since he came back from back problems, the Sox need for Ellsbury to start producing may become even more pronounced.