Ellsbury becoming a leader in his comeback year

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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

Sox hope to bring David Ortiz back to Boston for new role

Sox hope to bring David Ortiz back to Boston for new role

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- David Oritz’s time in Boston as a player is over. He continues to say there’s no Brett Favre-type comeback, no matter how many people ask him.

However, that doesn’t mean his time with the Red Sox is over.

Sam Kennedy, Tom Werner and Dave Dombrowski are heading down to the Dominican Republic to tour the team’s academy on the island to see what changes, if any, need to be made.

Ortiz will join them on those tours.

“He’s just a good guy to go to the Dominican with,” Kennedy said. “We thought it’d be great to catch up. Haven’t seen him since before the holidays.”

But the front office members intend to exchange more than just pleasantries and stories from the holiday season. One goal on the trip is to bring Ortiz back to the organization as an employee.

“Yeah that’s something on the agenda,” Kennedy said. “We’re gonna talk about what he may or may not want to do. He did say after the season let’s just talk in January. He was so overwhelmed and tired so it’s a good time to start those conversations.

“I know he has a lot of plans, broadcasting, a lot of businesses he’s involved with and we’ll see what he’s up to. But we hope to cement something so he’s a part of the organization.”

What role that is yet to be determined. Assuming he doesn’t pursue a broadcasting career.

“I truly don’t know what’s on his mind,” Kennedy said. “He’ll obviously be good at whatever he decides to do, but I would hope that we could create a role where he has influence in the baseball operations side, he has influence in marketing, as an ambassador. A lot of our alums we’ve found really enjoy working with young players. Pedro [Martinez] is a perfect example of that.

“So we’ll see what he’s interested in doing, but I have heard him talk about broadcasting in the past and I think he’d be great at it if he decides to do it.”

Swihart, Wright fully recovered for Red Sox' spring training

Swihart, Wright fully recovered for Red Sox' spring training

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Dave Dombrowski told reporters at the Red Sox Winter Weekend at Foxwoods both Steven Wright and Blake Swihart are ready to go for spring training.

Wright suffered a shoulder injury from sliding back into second as a pinch runner against the Dodgers in August, ending his All-Star season far too soon. The knuckleballer went 13-6 with a 3.33 ERA in 24 starts last season.

“His shoulder has been feeling good,” Dombrowski said of Wright, who was not at the event due to a prior engagement. “He’s out there throwing, so he feels good.”

Swihart saw his season end even sooner than Wright, after spraining his left ankle June 4 tracking down a foul ball in left field near the wall at Fenway Park. He played in only 19 games last season. 

“[Swihart] said he feels great,” Dombrowski said. “He’s going right from here down to Florida and he said he’s ready to go.”

Swihart will move back to the catcher position for spring training, with his goal of winning the job over Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez. The ankle might’ve been a cause for concern had the Red Sox handled the situation differently, but by all accounts he’s OK to catch again.

“They tell me [there’s no reason for concern],” Dombrowski said. “I guess I’m really not knowledgeable to say that, but the doctors and trainers have told me no.

"That’s why they went and had the surgery because they felt the way the tendon kept slipping that [there was a] possibility it would bother him more. But after the surgery now, they feel there will not be any problems in that regard.”