Ellsbury becoming a leader in his comeback year


Ellsbury becoming a leader in his comeback year

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
Early in spring training, before the regular season even began, a major league talent evaluator offered the unsolicited prediction that Jacoby Ellsbury would be the Comeback Player of the Year.

After appearing in just 18 games last season because of fractured ribs -- batting .192 with just four extra-base hits, all doubles, and seven stolen bases -- in a season that was difficult both on and off the field for him, Ellsbury has done nothing to prove that impartial prognosticator wrong.

He has been among the league leaders for most of the season in several offensive categories, including batting average (now at .316), runs scored (70), hits (123), doubles (26), and stolen bases (28). He hit his 14th and 15th home runs of the season Wednesday afternoon in Baltimore, leaving him just five behind his career total entering this season. His .509 slugging percentage is third on the team, behind only Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz.

Hes a year older, more mature, has a better understanding of the expectations on him, said Sox bench coach DeMarlo Hale. I dont know if it's bad for me to say this because he probably needs to say this himself, but coming back from last year, he might have a little fire.

Just dont ask Ellsbury, the Sox first-round pick (23rd overall) in the 2005 draft out of Oregon State, if he has anything to prove. Hes not interested in the topic. He just wants to play. Others, though, are not as hesitant to talk about the season Ellsbury -- who has appeared in 95 of the teams 96 games -- is having. He was named to the American League All-Star team, voted in by the players, for the first time in his career.

When you see it from a different perspective, you learn some things, said Hale. I have sat down and talked to him about it. But hes an All-Star and its well deserved, too, because thats the bottom line.

The difference is noticeable at the plate and in the field.

You see a little bit more leadership in the outfield, Hale said, Im happy to see him do that, because when he broke in Coco Crisp was here in Ellsburys debut season of 2007 and rookie season of 2008. They shared time. He moved around. Its tough. At times when he was playing there was Manny Ramirez on one side and J.D. Drew on the other. The relationship he formed with J.D. has progressed to where they have very good communication, and youve seen him performing with the other left fielders, Jason Bay, Carl Crawford. So thats maturing and becoming the captain out there. Its just not anointed to you. You say it fundamentally that youre the captain because youve got more ground to cover. But being the true leader out there in the outfield kind of comes in with time. I see it progressing.

Along with his outfield leadership, Ellsburys outfield skills are progressing. The knock against him had been his arm. But, his five outfield assists so far this season, more than any other season, are tied for fourth in the league.

Hes applied the things he worked on in the offseason to the game, Hale said. You work on leverage. You work on balance. You work on where your feet are. Working on your arm, games situations dictate maybe how aggressively you throw the ball -- different distances, if theres a relay man, a right-center guy, left-center guy, compared to a cut-off man thats in the middle of the infield, going toward home, going toward third base. And his arm has gotten stronger.

He wants to be the guy that youve got to respect that. His speed can help. He can get to a ball quicker, so his throws can become shorter. One of the things we talked about, and I think its five out of six of not allowing that potential stolen base guy to advance on a ball thats thrown or kicked off, not to let him get to third base. So hes doing some things that dont show up in the books. But its a compliment from his teammates, coaches.

While Ellsbury has been among the league leaders in stolen bases all season, he is off the pace of his AL-best 50 in 2008 and 70 in the 2009. That doesnt matter, though, with Adrian Gonzalez hitting behind him leading the league in RBI. And, just the threat of Ellsbury stealing can impact the opponents defense.

Consciously hes been very good at his all-around game, Hale said. I tip my hat to him. Hes worked himself into being an All-Star.

And proving something?

Theres a maturity factor but there is nothing to prove, Hale said. Its the challenge of playing this game at a high level and its the challenge of being your best. Hes an All-Star. Thats a good foundation for him to keep building his career, not just this year but the years to come.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen

Drellich: MLB could explain umpire rulings more often

Drellich: MLB could explain umpire rulings more often

BOSTON — We know that Red Sox manager John Farrell did something wrong. In the absence of any sort of formal announcement otherwise, we’re left to assume the umpires did everything properly — but there’s room for MLB to make that clearer.

If the NBA can put out Last 2 Minute reports, why can’t MLB provide more regular explanations or reviews of contested calls?

Farrell on Tuesday said he’d like to see more public accountability in the umpiring realm, hours before the manager was to sit out Game No. 77. Farrell was suspended one game for making contact with crew chief Bill Miller on Saturday night as manager and umpire rained spittle on each other over a balk call that went against the Sox.

Well, was it a balk or not? Did Miller do anything wrong as well?

“I don’t know if there was anything levied on the other side,” Farrell said. “I don’t know that.”

But would he like such matters to always be public?

“I think there have been strides made in that way,” Farrell said. “I guess I would. I think everyone in uniform would prefer that to be made public. Whether or not that happens, I don’t know, but that would be a choice I would make.”

The league has a thorough internal review system. But it is just that: internal. Most of the time, any way.

On most every night at Fenway Park, there is someone on hand watching just the umpires and reviewing them.

MLB, to its credit, has announced suspensions for umpires in the past. The league has made public acknowledgments when calls have been made incorrectly. More of that seems viable — even if it’s an announcement to reaffirm that the call was made and handled properly, and here are the reasons why.

“I haven’t received any further determination or review of what transpired,” Farrell said. “My position, my stance, remains steadfast. I still firmly believe that time was called [before the balk call was made]. I wasn’t arguing the balk. I was arguing the timing of it. As I reiterated today to those that I spoke with, I still stand by my side of the argument. Unfortunately, there was contact made.”

Drellich: Hanley Ramirez has to improve or Red Sox need to try others

Drellich: Hanley Ramirez has to improve or Red Sox need to try others

BOSTON — It doesn’t really matter what’s holding Hanley Ramirez back: his health, his desire to play through injuries, neither, both. The Red Sox need him to hit better as the designated hitter, or give someone else a chance in his place.

Tuesday is June 27. From May 27 on, Ramirez is hitting .202 with a .216 on-base percentage and .369 slugging percentage.

Putting Ramirez on the disabled list so that he can heal up, or at least attempt to, would be reasonable. If you can’t hit well — if you can’t even be in the lineup, as has been the case the last two days — you're hampering the roster.

Ramirez was out of the lineup for a second straight game on Tuesday because of his left knee, which was hit by a pitch Sunday. He’s been bothered by his shoulders all season.

“He’s improved today. He’s responding to treatment,” manager John Farrell said Tuesday of Ramirez’s knee. “He’s still going through some work right now. Would get a bat in his hand here shortly to determine if he’s available to pinch hit tonight. Prior to yesterday’s game, day to day, and still in that status, but he is improving.”

The route to better production doesn’t matter. As long as the Sox get some, be it from Ramirez or somewhere else. Flat-out benching Ramirez in favor of Chris Young or Sam Travis or both for a time should be on the table.

When it comes to lineups vs. lefties, Farrell might be thinking the same way. 

Farrell was asked Tuesday if he’d consider playing someone at DH other than Ramirez for performance reasons.

“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Farrell said. “Where he was so good against left-handed pitching last year, that’s been still a work in progress, for lack of a better way to describe it. So we’re always looking to put the best combination on the field.”

A right-handed hitter, Ramirez is just 5-for-35 (.143) vs. lefties this season, after hitting .346 against them a year ago.

On the flip side: in the final three months of the 2016 season, Ramirez hit .300 with a .379 OBP and .608 slugging percentage overall. That’s from the start of July through the end of the regular season vs. all pitchers.

“You know, the one thing you can’t completely turn away from is what Hanley did last year,” Farrell said. “While I know that’s last year, we’re still working to get some increased performance from him. I think he’s still a key member in our lineup. The presence he provides, the impact that he’s capable of. And yet, we’re still working to get there.”

Farrell said the team hasn’t been able to pinpoint a particular reason for Ramirez’s struggles vs. southpaws.

“No,” Farrell said. “There’s been extensive video review. There’s been extensive conversations with him. There’s been stretches, short stretches, where he’s I think shown the approach at the plate and the all field ability to drive the baseball. That’s been hit and miss a little bit. So, we’re just trying to gain a consistency that he’s been known for.”

Mitch Moreland's been playing with a fractured big toe in his left foot. After he homered and had another impactful night Monday, Farrell made some comments that are hard to read as anything but a message to Ramirez.

“In [Moreland's] most recent stretch, he’s been able to get on top of some fastballs that have been at the top of the strike zone or above for some power obviously,” Farrell said. “But I think the way he’s gone about it given the physical condition he’s in, is a strong message to the remainder of this team.”

Asked about that comment a day later, Farrell shot down the idea he was trying to reach Ramirez or anyone else with that remark about playing hurt.

“No,” Farrell said Tuesday. “I respect the question, but that was to highlight a guy who has been dealing with a broken toe, continues to perform at a high level and to compliment Mitch for the way he’s gone about it.”

It doesn't matter why Ramirez isn't producing, at a certain point. Either he is or he isn't. If not, they need to be willing to give someone else an extended look, whether it lands Ramirez on the DL or simply the bench.