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Peter Gammons on M&M: ‘Jacoby Ellsbury has forgotten what his job is’

04.20.11 at 4:42 pm ET

MLB Network and NESN analyst Peter Gammons joined the Mut & Merloni Show on Wednesday to discuss the state of affairs with the Red Sox. He suggested that the issues with Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate may require some kind of change in the coming weeks, discussed Jed Lowrie‘s potential as an everyday shortstop and gave his view of where the Sox might find left-handed help for their bullpen.

He also discussed the Sox’ leadoff woes, which became pronounced while Carl Crawford was occupying that spot for eight games. Gammons suggested that the Sox never envisioned having Crawford hit leadoff, and that the situation was forced by the fact that Jacoby Ellsbury was not taking the approach needed to occupy the top spot in the order.

“I don’€™t think there was ever an intention to hit [Crawford] leadoff. Never did. I thought it was third or fifth,” said Gammons. “I think one of the things that’€™s killed them is that Jacoby Ellsbury has forgotten what his job is in baseball, which is to get on base and run. His four home runs, to me, are one of the worst things that’€™s happened to this team early in the season, because I think it’€™s encouraged him to get wider and wider with his swing.

“They need him hitting leadoff. They need him to get on base 37 percent of the time or 38 percent of the time. I think he’€™s kind of gotten away from that. I appreciate he didn’€™t play for a year, and I understand how difficult it is to come back, but I think that’€™s sort of been overlooked. The guy who’€™s supposed to hit leadoff isn’€™t getting on base.”

Ellsbury entered Wednesday’s game hitting .196 with a .281 OBP, .451 slugging mark and .732 OPS, along with a team-leading four homers. He has walked five times and struck out on 11 occasions in 57 plate appearances this year.

Gammons also suggested that the defensive struggles of Jarrod Saltalamacchia could soon reach critical mass. Given the questions about how often the 39-year-old Jason Varitek can catch while remaining healthy and productive, the Sox may be in a situation where they are left with few desirable alternatives if Saltalamacchia doesn’t improve behind the dish.

“The Saltalamacchia question is something that’€™s going to continue to be raised here. I know that [Sox manager Terry Francona] is trying to give him a breather, get him established again, but it’€™s a problem,” said Gammons. “You look around, though ‘€“ where do they go to get someone else? Their doctors never would have passed Russell Martin (who signed with the Yankees as a free agent) last winter. They red-flagged him as soon as he became a free agent, as much as some of the people in their front office liked him.

“So the question is going to be, if they really feel that this is an issue, and not hitting, but the defensive part, the throwing, do you just go immediately to (Double-A catcher) [Tim] Federowicz, who’€™s the best catch-and-throw guy in the organization, and hope that he pulls a [Doug] Mirabelli, and just hits fastballs in the middle half of the plate into the screen once in a while? This is an issue that in the next two weeks is going to be addressed, and I don’€™t know which direction it’€™s going.”

Gammons expressed dismay that Saltalamacchia’s struggles have quickly become an issue for the Sox.

“He’€™s such a good guy. He cares so much. He tries so hard,” said Gammons. “[But] you just can’€™t have this on a championship team, especially when a big part of that championship team is built around power pitchers who are in a couple of cases struggling for their identity. I would be shocked now if Varitek doesn’€™t catch [Josh] Beckett all the time now. Clearly, they’€™ve made the decision that he’€™s going to catch [Daisuke] Matsuzaka, whose earned run average is massively different with Varitek catching. But I don’€™t think they can afford to let Jason go out and try to catch 120, 130 games.”

Yet while Saltalamacchia’s defense (and, for that matter, offense) have both been concerns, and the Sox don’t have a catcher who is clearly ready to assume an everyday major league role in their system, Gammons noted that there aren’t viable alternatives on the trade market.

“If there was somebody available right now, somebody a lot better than Pudge Rodriguez, who I think would have problems with this staff, but if there was somebody available who they thought was really good defensively, I think they would immediately jump and do something. I don’€™t see that catcher,” said Gammons. “I’€™ve gone through lists everywhere trying to figure out who could possibly be available. I just don’€™t see anybody good. There are guys out there who are OK backups. But you also have the problem of, you’€™ve got Joe Mauer hurt, which means that Minnesota can’€™t afford to trade a catcher. Somebody mentioned to me Ryan Hanigan, the kid from Andover for the Reds, just about the best backup in baseball. Good player. But [Ramon] Hernandez is 36, 37 years old. They’€™re not going to trade him. I just don’€™t know where [the Sox] go.”

Other highlights of the interview are below. To listen to the complete interview, visit the Mut & Merloni Audio on Demand page.

Can Jed Lowrie remain an everyday shortstop in the majors?

I think he can. … He’€™s not going to be Elvis Andrus or someone like that. it may be that [Jose] Iglesias arrives sometime next year and becomes the everyday shortstop, and Jed becomes a guy that plays first, second, short, third, DHes, because he does hit left-handers so well. So maybe that happens. But I think he’€™s an adequate defensive shortstop. Because of his anticipation, I think he’€™s right in the middle as far as everyday shortstops in the major leagues.
Not everybody is Troy Tulowitzki or Elvis Andrus, or Alexei Ramirez for that matter, but I think he can be an adequate shortstop. I really do. I just think he’€™s such a good player. he’€™s intelligent. He plays the game. He’€™s a very smart player. he really believe that, now that his wrist is coming back, that his left-handed hitting will get better all the time.

Could Bengie Molina be a possibility at catcher.

He did not run in the Marathon. … I raised that question and never really got a response to it. We know last year, the Giants pitchers, that’€™s a staff with great stuff, the Giants pitchers were not thrilled when they sat him down, even though Buster Posey went on to be the most popular player in the city. At the same time, the pitchers were unhappy. [Tim] Lincecum was unhappy. So Bengie must have been able to catch, and he must have been able to catch pitchers with good stuff. Maybe that’€™s a possibility. It’€™s something we’€™ll wait and see. If things don’€™t get a lot better between now and the time they leave Anaheim, I’€™m guessing something will happen, whether it’€™s Benji Molina or some minor deal or Tim Federowicz, who’€™s off to a very good start in Double-A, and can really catch and throw. I hate to say that, because Saltalamacchia has tried so hard, but you can’€™t afford to have a catching experiment for a month of the season.

Would Triple-A catcher Luis Exposito represent a viable alternative?

I think because of Federowicz’€™ catch-and-throw ability, that’€™s his skill. He can do those two things. The question is going to be the hitting. I think he would be No. 1 on the list right now. if they had to make a move, he’€™d be the guy they’€™d bring up. But I’€™ll say this, too ‘€“ [Ryan] Lavarnway has made tremendous strides in Double-A defensively. The problem is they’€™ve got Lavarnway and Federowicz on the same team, so one catches and one DHes everyday.

Could Hideki Okajima end up getting sent back down to Pawtucket?

I think it’€™s a possibility. Rich Hill has been unbelievable in Pawtucket, but I gather they want to give Rich a full month to get his feet on the ground, get used to this delivery and get his confidence restored before they bring him up. I think he’€™s probably the best of the situational guys with that curveball, throwing from that low three-quarters slot. Clearly, Andrew Miller, even though he’€™s throwing really well, needs time to get his command back. I think he’€™s walked I think six per nine innings in his three starts in Pawtucket.

My guess is that Rich Hill and maybe [Matt] Albers, if Albers can throw the ball over the plate, they’€™ll be the answer. I agree with you. I don’€™t think you’€™re over-reacting. Last year, when he really went bad, was when I realized how good Okajima was for this team for a couple years, because he could fill every role. He could come in in the sixth, he could get left-handers, he could do everything. but that’€™s clearly disappeared this year.

What are your thoughts on the AL Central?

I think [the start by] Cleveland is a little more shocking [than Kansas City] because they’€™re coming off the injuries. … To me, Detroit’€™s got good pitching but they look old. They are worried about their age. The White Sox to me are the best team, but they’€™ve blown up the whole bullpen about three times already, as much as they have great stuff. Minnesota is beaten up. They’€™ve got 43 percent of their payroll is hurting ‘€“ [Joe] Mauer, [Justin] Morneau and [Joe] Nathan. That’€™s something to worry about. That’€™s a curious division for one that looked OK. I think the White Sox are going to win it, but at the same time, it’€™s actually fun to see, and I would love to see Cleveland stay in this thing. I don’€™t think it’€™s going to happen, but I hope they can win 82 games or something.

Read More: Bengie Molina, Jacoby Ellsbury, jarrod saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek
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