Jacoby Ellsbury’s Injury Would Be Tough Break If Serious, Could Reveal Outfielder’s True Value to Red Sox

Jacoby EllsburyThe Red Sox’ first glimpse of life after Jacoby Ellsbury has arrived sooner than expected.

Ellsbury underwent an MRI on his right foot in Boston on Saturday, and it revealed swelling and inflammation at the navicular bone, according to manager John Farrell. Ellsbury will now receive a second opinion in Denver, and while it’s unclear how long he’ll be sidelined, the Red Sox are suddenly forced to weather the absence of one of baseball’s most dynamic leadoff hitters.

“I don’t think we’re looking at something that’s just day-to-day here,” Farrell told reporters Saturday.

Adding to an already troubling outlook on Ellsbury is the Red Sox’ recent history with injuries to the navicular bone. Dustin Pedroia broke the bone in 2010 and missed a bulk of the final three months, and Cody Ross suffered a fracture in 2012 that sidelined him for a month. When you consider such, it’s not totally outlandish to think that Ellsbury, who is a free agent after the season, might have played his last game with the Red Sox, although general manager Ben Cherington offered some optimism before Saturdays’ game.

“My understanding is there’s not a long-term concern here,” Cherington told reporters. “It’s really about how do we best manage it over the course of the next several weeks, and hopefully he can play a lot in those several weeks. I know he wants to play. We obviously want him to play. It’s our hope that he’ll be playing before too long.”

Clearly, there’s still a lot to sort out in this whole Ellsbury situation. But the mere idea of losing an explosive top-of-the-order presence in September is devastating, especially given how well Ellsbury has played since mid May.

Ellsbury’s .330 average since May 26 ranks fifth in the American League. His average has risen 50 points — .249 to .299 — in that span, and his 17 three-hit games this season are second only to Victor Martinez’s 18 three-knock performances. Ellsbury’s consistency at the plate has made him even more dangerous, as he’s been able to wreak tons of havoc on the bases.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” Farrell said Saturday. “Jacoby Ellsbury in the leadoff spot — with the stolen base ability, the talent that he has — this is a guy we’re going to miss for the time being that he will be out.”

Ellsbury currently leads the majors with 52 stolen bases, and even more impressive is the efficiency with which he’s accumulated the thefts. His 92.9 percent success rate — also tops in baseball — has helped transform the Red Sox into a more aggressive team on the base paths.

The Red Sox entered Saturday’s game leading the majors with an 85.4 percent stolen-base percentage (111-for-130). It includes converting their last 27 stolen-base attempts, which marks the longest single-season stretch without being caught by any team since the Blue Jays had 38 straight swipes in 1993. Ellsbury, obviously, has been the main contributor during the rare stretch.

With Ellsbury out of the lineup, the Red Sox will go with Shane Victorino out of the leadoff spot and depend on rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. to help keep the outfield pumping. It shouldn’t pose too much of a problem given how hot Victorino has been over the past month and how much production the Red Sox have received from top to bottom of late, but Ellsbury’s absence absolutely takes away from Boston’s overall offensive explosiveness. The 1-2 punch of Ellsbury and Victorino at the top of the order has been a major strength, and its absence could become an issue for the lineup if and when the current power surge dies down.

The Red Sox’ overall offensive approach probably won’t change much. They’ll continue to grind out at-bats, look to build innings and rely heavily on making pitchers work. Ellsbury’s baserunning prowess and consistency out of the top spot has really helped that recipe become more successful over the past three-plus months, though. Ellsbury has the most hits (169) and games with a hit (103) among MLB leadoff hitters.

Boston is also losing an elite defender in Ellsbury. Bradley’s ability to step in and provide good defense will help negate what would otherwise be a potentially crippling aspect of Ellsbury’s injury, but the Ellsbury-Victorino combo has been just as important defensively this season as it has been in the batter’s box.

The coming days should reveal more about the extent of Ellsbury’s injury. With any luck for the Red Sox, it’ll be a minor issue as they head toward the postseason. It’ll be a big blow if it proves to be serious, though, and it’ll also give an indication as to what the Red Sox might be looking at come next April.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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