By Sean McAdam
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Those seeking to read the tea leaves regarding Terry Francona's ideas for a regular-season batting order had some fresh fodder awaiting on the clubhouse bulletin board Monday morning.
For the second game of the Grapefruit League season, the Sox' lineup featured Jacoby Ellsbury leading off, Dustin Pedroia hitting second and Carl Crawford, making his Red Sox debut, hitting third.
So what was the significance of that?
Not much, according to Francona.
"That's today's lineup,'' said Francona. "We're just trying to win the Mayor's Cup. We front-loaded it today for obvious reason -- panic is setting in after a loss to Minnesota Sunday night.
"It's an obvious possibility to use that same combination at the start of the regular season, but who knows? We're just trying to get ready for the season.''
It's tough to read too much into a lineup that was not featuring projected starters Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, Marco Scutaro and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
No matter what Francona does with his batting order, it seems unavoidable that there will be back-to-back lefties in the lineup somewhere. Presumably, if Francona uses the Ellsbury-Pedroia-Crawford troika at the top, Adrian Gonzalez would hit cleanup with Kevin Youkilis fifth, David Ortiz sixth and J.D. Drew seventh.
That would present two stretches of the order with consecutive lefties: Crawford and Gonzalez hitting third and fourth and Ortiz-Drew hitting next to one another at Nos. 6 and 7. But with five of their seven best hitters left-handed (Ellsbury, Crawford, Gonzalez, Ortiz and Drew), that's unavoidable at some point.
The key may well be leadoff, where Ellsbury is the manager's clear preference -- as long as he can handle the role.
"He was really starting to grow into it in 2009,'' said Francona, noting that the outfielder missed all but about 2 12 weeks with broken ribs last season. "At times, we would hit him down in the order to kind of protect him a little bit. But I think we've always said that when he's leading off and hitting well, that's our best lineup.
Francona seems to be holding off on naming Ellsbury as his leadoff man until he can judge the outfielder's readiness following his lost 2010 season.
"He came into camp swinging the bat way ahead of where I expected him to be," said Francona. "But he missed maybe 500 at-bats. So if it looks like that one fewer at-bat per game would help him, hitting him ninth to start the season is what we would do. We'll watch his at-bats."