Sure, the Red Sox miss Jacoby Ellsbury.
They miss his energy. They miss his speed. They miss his extraordinary base stealing ability. They miss his leadoff skills. They miss his ability to disrupt the pitcher and the defense. They miss his ability to cover ground in center field.
They don’t miss paying him — he will receive $153 million for the next seven years with the Yankees. They don’t miss having to hold their breath for the next injury. So, if they have to take their lumps from the leadoff spot, in center field, and on the base stealing front, they will.
And they already have.
The Red Sox will see Ellsbury from the other side when they open a four-game series at Yankee Stadium Thursday night. Ellsbury had gotten off to a smoking hot start — 12 for 29 (.414) with a .469 on-base percentage heading into Wednesday night’s game vs. the Orioles.
He was 6 for 16 (.375), .474 OBP, and .975 OPS from the leadoff spot with three steals in three attempts (he’s 4 for 5 overall).
Boston’s loss is New York’s gain.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox are 6 for 34 (.176) from the leadoff spot (and that includes A.J. Pierzynski’s pinch-hit single in the eighth inning in advance of David Ortiz’s three-run homer in Wednesday’s 4-2 win over the Rangers.
They have attempted four steals and have been caught three times. Is the lack of speed also a reason the Red Sox have hit into a major league-leading 17 double plays? Has Ellsbury’s loss factored into the Red Sox’ abysmal performance with runners in scoring position (17 for 79, .215)?
It all factors in.
The Red Sox are what their record (4-5) says they are after taking two out of three against Texas. They’re bunched with four other teams in the AL East after nine games. Who has any idea how this is all going to go?
If Ortiz continues to hit three-run homers to win games, the Red Sox won’t give Ellsbury a second thought. If Mike Napoli gets big hits, if Shane Victorino returns to provide some speed and Gold Glove defense, if Jake Peavy continues to pitch shutout baseball, and Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz turn their poor starts around, Ellsbury will be a footnote.
The Red Sox and Yankees have pretty much been in the same boat so far, even with Ellsbury switching teams.
Ellsbury is one of three significant losses from Boston’s championship team, along with Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Any time you chip away at a World Series team it hurts and there are growing pains.
Grady Sizemore/Jackie Bradley, Xander Bogaerts, and Pierzynski are the replacements and they have, to some degree, been suitable.
Drew was steady and sure and gave the pitchers peace of mind. He had some big-hit capabilities. Ellsbury had elite skills. Pierzynski has made up for Saltalamacchia’s loss.
Ellsbury, who DH’d Wednesday night, is batting third now for the Yankees with Mark Teixeira on the disabled list. Ellsbury is a dynamic player with power and that will likely shine through with the short porch in right at Yankee Stadium.
The Red Sox aren’t adept at holding runners. Manager John Farrell stressed the need for pitchers to keep Ellsbury close to the bag.
The Red Sox have the book on Ellsbury. They know his strengths and weaknesses. They know his tendencies on the basepaths. They know what he looks for in a pitcher’s delivery and to take that extra step lead. With all of those advantages, can they still stop him?
It won’t be easy. Ellsbury, who missed a week toward the end of spring training with a hamstring strain, drew comments from critics about his injury history.
Ellsbury kept telling people he was not going to miss Opening Day, and he didn’t.
“I’ve never seen him look better,” one American League scout who has watched the Yankees a lot said Wednesday at Fenway. “He looks very confident at the plate. He doesn’t seem out of place in the No. 3 hole, and any time he’s on base, whether it’s leading off or wherever he bats, he’s going to be a threat to steal.
“This is a great signing by the Yankees. You can hem and haw it’s a lot of money. Of course it is. But for the first few years of this contract, and who knows, maybe for its entirety, this guy does things that nobody else can do.’’
The Red Sox knew Ellsbury could fly off to the Yankees, and within 48 hours of starting negotiations, agent Scott Boras had a deal he couldn’t refuse.
“There’s a reason he got all that money,” David Ross said. “He’s a dynamic player. There’s a ton of tricks but eventually you just have to throw strikes [to the next hitter], throw over, pitch out some. You can do everything right and he’ll still steal the bag.
“Our coaching staff doesn’t pitch out much, but I’m sure we’ll do it some. Our pitchers have to be conscious of him. [Buchholz] throws over there a ton, anyway. We have a four-game set. [John Lackey] is someone who he’ll try to run on. Lack is doing a better job of mixing up his looks this year. We’ll have a game plan. First game plan, for me, is keeping him off the basepaths.’’
Ross added, “Ellsbury was the big reason our offense was so dynamic last year. He’s disruptive. He’d get on base and make everyone aware. All the attention, and sometimes too much of the attention, was on him. If you lose a little bit of that concentration or focus you can take advantage of that as an offense.”
Ross said he’ll listen to what the coaching staff has planned for Ellsbury, but he said, “Up and away is probably a good place [to pitch him] in their ballpark. He’s a really good player when he’s healthy. Maybe some stuff cutting in on him; maybe front-hip him some.”
Ross is big on numbers, so he’ll look at where Ellsbury is vulnerable to certain pitches and locations.
Right now, Ellsbury doesn’t appear to be vulnerable to anything.
“Both when I was in Chicago and Texas, I thought we did a good job with him on the bases,” Pierzynski said. “The big thing is to get him out and avoid the base running thing. Once he gets on base, his game elevated to another level. So you have to take that away.”
So, that’s the first step. Keep him off first.
The Red Sox don’t want to see Ellsbury do the things he did against so many other teams. Remember when he stole home against Andy Pettitte?
They don’t want to be the next victim.
It’s bad enough to lose him. Now you have to game-plan for him 19 times.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.