Jacoby Ellsbury, in final countdown until free agency, comes up with big game against Yankees

August 17, 2013 - 5:56 pm
Jacoby Ellsbury didn'€™t wait very long to make an impact Saturday. He took the very first offering he saw from Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda '€” an 89 mph sinker '€” and sent it to right field for a hard-hit single. It didn'€™t result in a run, but it was the start of one of Ellsbury'€™s best games this year: 3-for-5 with a double and a pair of RBIs in the Red Sox'€™ 6-1 win over New York. His 13 three-hit games are a team-high. '€œA lot of good swings. He'€™s had good leverage on his swing,'€ manager John Farrell said. '€œHe comes right out of the shoot, first pitch [he sees] for the base hit, and it kind of jump-started his day. The [double] in his last base hit, it'€™s good to see him swing the bat like he did today after a couple left-handers [Friday] kind of kept him in check (0-for-4, strikeout).'€ It could prove to be an important performance for Ellsbury, who had been in a mini-slump to the tune of a .120/.154/.120 slash line his last five games after a four-hit effort Aug. 10. Ellsbury is, after all, rapidly approaching what in all likelihood will be the biggest payday of his life when he becomes a free agent at the conclusion of this 2013 campaign. '€œIt'€™s a time for you to maximize '€” or so they say '€” maximize on what you'€™ve done in your career,'€ said Shane Victorino, Ellsbury'€™s outfield neighbor. '€œGet an opportunity to see what all 30 teams think of you.'€ Victorino would know. This time last year, he was thrust into a situation similar to the one Ellsbury finds himself in now: in the midst of a pennant race with just a handful of weeks remaining before becoming a free agent for the first time ever. Of course, Victorino'€™s circumstances were a bit different. He had just been dealt from the Phillies, who were out of the playoff picture by the 2012 trade deadline, to the Dodgers, who were very much in it. Then he had unspectacular two months in Los Angeles, batting .245 with a .667 OPS and 31 strikeouts to 18 walks. The Dodgers missed out on the October fun, and Victorino signed with the Red Sox in December. How Ellsbury'€™s story will play out remains to be seen. His agent, Scott Boras, notorious for getting his clients every dime possible from the team most willing to pay top-dollar, is taking his regular route with Ellsbury'€™s pending free agency by holding off on negotiations until season'€™s end (an approach reached jointly with the Red Sox, GM Ben Cherington has suggested on multiple occasions). While Victorino and Ellsbury are similar in that they are top-of-the-order hitters who are known for speed and regularly make highlight-reel plays in the outfield, Ellsbury is almost certainly due for a bigger contract. After a tough start, Ellsbury turned his season around with a stretch that started with a walkoff double over the Indians on May 26. From that day until Aug. 10 '€” right before that this skid '€” Ellsbury was one of hottest hitters in the majors with a .353 average and .405 OBP. Now comes the interesting part, when every game is under that much more of a microscope. In Victorino'€™s case, he said he had to put aside all of the forthcoming ambiguity about where he'€™d spend the next portion of his career for the sake of the team. '€œYou'€™re just trying to finish the season,'€ Victorino said. '€œIf you take care of what you have to take care of offensively or defensively, you do what you have to do, you'€™re obviously going to help the team in the long run. '€¦ [Each at-bat] comes in an individualized situation, but it'€™s all for the team.'€ Farrell, for his part, has liked what he'€™s seen from Ellsbury, who he has penciled into the lineup manning center field in all but 10 games this season. Farrell said Ellsbury'€™s stroke now compares to what he remembers from 2007-10, when Farrell was the team'€™s pitching coach. '€œIt may not result in the same number of home runs hit,'€ Farrell said. '€œBut I think once he got his timing down coming out of that Chicago series early in the year [May 20-22], from that point forward it'€™s been very consistent, timely and productive." That is true for the Red Sox in 2013, just as it likely will prove for Ellsbury when his services are up for bidding.