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Opening Day pregame with Bobby Valentine: Jacoby Ellsbury once again a leading man

04.05.12 at 12:27 pm ET
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Jacoby Ellsbury will once again be the Red Sox' leading man (AP)

DETROIT — After plenty of speculation, the inaugural Red Sox lineup of the 2012 season looked…and awful lot like the one that ended last year, at least at the top of the order. Manager Bobby Valentine‘s first official Red Sox lineup looked like this:

Ellsbury
Pedroia
Gonzalez
Ortiz
Youkilis
Sweeney
Ross
Saltalamacchia
Aviles

Ellsbury, Pedroia and Gonzalez return to the spots where they spent almost all of last year. Ortiz is back in the place where he finished the 2011 season, and Youkilis remains in the middle of the lineup, though moved down a spot from where he spent most of last season.

Never one to dismiss the value of good theater, Valentine acknowledged the excitement of beginning the season with Ellsbury facing Justin Verlander, the pitcher who beat out Ellsbury for the MVP Award.

“It seems like in this grouping [Ellsbury] looks really good being there and I also thought it would be apropos for you guys to write about the number one and number two in the MVP voting facing each other on a first pitch here in Detroit this year,” said Valentine. “And he liked it, too. Talking to him, he kind of relished the idea.”

Thus will begin Ellsbury’s effort to follow up his incredible 2011 season in which he hit .321 with a .376 OBP, .552 slugging mark, .928 OPS, 32 homers, 105 RBI and 39 steals. How can Ellsbury follow up such a campaign?

“By taking it one pitch at a time,” said Valentine. “Obviously today, at the end of today, he’s not going to have the stats that he had at the end of last year. And, you know, the trap everyone always falls into is answering all those questions. How are you going to do better this year than you did last year? You start thinking that you have to hit a home run every time and a triple the next time and two doubles and steal bases, drive in the runs, all at once, and that’s not how it happens.”

In terms of how he approaches the game, Valentine’s spring glimpse of the Sox center fielder has given him some insight into how he could produce such a remarkable season in 2011.

“I know that he’s a really hard worker in the winter time. I have watched his work ethic in spring training. He’s a fabulous athlete,” said Valentine. “So it seemed like it was inevitable for him to hit his stride if that’s what he hit last year and maybe he even has some extra burner. I’m not sure. He’s a very good player. Great guy, too.”

As for Valentine, the Sox manager admitted that he was elated by the prospect of getting the season underway.

“[I] got up so long ago I can’t remember,” said Valentine. “It’s Opening Day. There’s only one Opening Day. It’s a very special day. Start of something new.”

Asked what he learned this spring, Valentine took the opportunity to offer a self-deprecating barb.

“It’s hard for me to tell what I know now and I didn’t know then,” said Valentine. “Obviously you all know me: I knew it all before I even got the job.”

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