Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ellsbury thriving with Lowrie's bats

(This didn't make the Union Leader's site thanks to the David Ortiz hubbub, so it made sense to post it here.)

Jed Lowrie’s bat has been doing plenty of damage in the Red Sox lineup over the past few weeks. Lowrie just hasn’t been the one swinging it.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Lowrie were talking shop in the Red Sox clubhouse the day before Lowrie was set to fly to Arizona to visit the specialist who would recommend and eventually perform surgery on his left wrist.

Ellsbury wasn’t feeling comfortable with his bats. Lowrie handed him one of his. It wasn’t all that different, but it had a little more heft and a little more thickness to the barrel.

“You probably wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference picking it up,” Ellsbury said.

But it was love at first swing.

“Guys do it all the time – they’ll pick it up and it’ll feel better in their hand, and they’ll make a switch,” he said. “It just felt good in my hand, so I decided to test it out.”

More than a month later, Ellsbury is still swinging Lowrie-model lumber. He was hitting .194 with zero extra-base hits when he made the switch; he’s hit .336 with seven doubles, a triple and a home run since. And with a fifth-inning single on Tuesday, Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to 14 games, four shy of his career best.

Despite his rough start, Ellsbury now leads the Red Sox and ranks among the American League leaders in hits (50).

“He’s using more of the entire field,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “He’s pulling the ball with authority. He’s slapping the ball to left field. He’s hitting the ball up the middle. He’s gotten hits everywhere.”

Said left fielder Jason Bay, “Early on, he was hitting a lot of balls in the air, and now it’s more line drives and hard ground balls. It’s easy to say and not easy to do, but for him, it’s pretty important.”

Even better, Ellsbury has cut down on his strikeouts – a key for a guy who’s a threat to beat out just about any ground ball he hits. He struck out five times in his first 39 plate appearances (12.8 percent) but has fanned just 11 times in 134 plate appearances (8.2 percent) since he made the switch. (He struck out in 13.1 percent of his plate appearances a year ago.)

Among Red Sox regulars, only Dustin Pedroia (6.9 percent) is striking out less frequently than Ellsbury (9.3 percent).

The new lumber itself might not make much of a difference – “I don’t think you’re going to see a guy hit a buck-fifty and switch bats and be a .500 hitter,” Bay said – but anything that helps a hitter feel better about himself at the plate helps him be more productive.

There might even be a few hits left in the bats when Lowrie returns from his wrist surgery.

“I told him I’d keep them warm for him,” Ellsbury said.

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