Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ellsbury makes first trip back to Fenway in pinstripes

The road gray uniform with "NEW YORK" across the front is starting to feel more normal to Jacoby Ellsbury, who has not seemed to have much difficulty adjusting to his new surroundings through seven weeks of Spring Training and three weeks of regular-season contests.

Even having his old Red Sox teammates visit Yankee Stadium earlier in April did not register much of a blip on Ellsbury's radar. But the atmosphere might change quite a bit when the center fielder returns to Fenway Park on Tuesday -- seeing the ancient red-brick corridors for the first time as an enemy competitor.

"Every situation is different," Ellsbury said. "I can't compare it with other guys' situations, but I'm definitely aware of it. I've seen it. I've seen how passionate they are. I think they're all wondering what's going to happen.

"I'm not going to think about it too much, because it's out of my hands. I gave [that] organization everything I had every time I stepped on the field."

Ellsbury's return to Fenway won't be the only compelling storyline in this one. Japanese rookie Masahiro Tanaka, who is off to a strong start with the Yankees, will make his first start in baseball's most storied rivalry.

"I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "I think anyone who is a fan of the game is going to look forward to watching a highly-touted guy coming to the Major Leagues here. We know that he's got a well-above-average split-finger fastball. We're looking forward to seeing him on the field and across the field from him."

And Boston will counter with ace Jon Lester, who has pitched well in all of his starts this season. In his last time out, Lester outdueled Chris Sale in Chicago.

Ellsbury, meanwhile, will be a focal point every time he steps to the plate. He signed a seven-year, $153 million contract with the Yanks after winning the World Series with the Red Sox last season. Ellsbury received his second World Series ring earlier this month, hand-delivered to the Bronx by Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington.

"I always enjoyed playing there, I had a great time, my time being a Red Sox [player]," Ellsbury said. "I still have a lot of friends over there. I'm looking forward to it. I'll have some family there [at Fenway], as well."

But how warm of a reception can Ellsbury really expect? He was in the Boston organization back in 2006 when Johnny Damon clipped his long locks to accept a big contract with New York -- and Damon was booed by the great majority when he returned to Fenway.

Despite the obvious parallels between the two situations -- and the fact that Damon and Ellsbury chatted last week -- Ellsbury said that he still hasn't given too much thought to what it will be like to be back at Fenway.

"You can't think about what they're going to do," Ellsbury said. "In this game, you can really only focus on what you can do, not worry about all that other stuff that you can't control.

"We'll see what happens. I gave the organization everything I had for a third of my life. Nine years in an organization -- drafted by them, came up and won two World Series. I left it all on the field."

Ellsbury will look to make his presence felt against Lester, who will get the ball for the Red Sox in the opener.

Yankees: Tanaka's first taste of Fenway
  • Tanaka said that he used to park in front of the television to watch some of those epic Yanks-Red Sox showdowns, beamed to Japan from a half world away.
"I've seen the two teams play, and I understand there is a certain rivalry between the two teams going into the game," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I'm sure the fans will be heated up a bit, and it should be a good experience going up on the mound that day. I'm very much looking forward to it."

Tanaka, who is looking for his third Major League victory, is coming off eight superb scoreless innings against the Cubs last time out and owns a 2.05 ERA. He has recorded 28 strikeouts in 22 innings, with just two walks. Tanaka said that he is not concerned by the Green Monster in left field.

"I understand that if you give up fly balls, it might be dangerous, so I think the best thing to do is try to get as many ground balls as possible," Tanaka said.

Red Sox: Victorino on the mend
  • Right fielder Shane Victorino, who took Sunday off after opening his rehab assignment on Saturday, will continue playing for Triple-A Pawtucket on Monday and Tuesday.
Victorino could be back in Boston's lineup as soon as Wednesday, for the middle game of this three-game series.

The return of Victorino will create a tough roster decision, considering the logjam in the outfield. One possibility would be optioning Jackie Bradley Jr. back to Pawtucket. Otherwise, a move would have to be made involving Mike Carp or Daniel Nava.

"Those [discussions] have been ongoing," said Farrell. "Those talks aren't going to initiate when [Victorino's] deemed ready to come back to us. We've looked at every available combination of outfielders that are here with us -- and, ultimately, there will be a roster decision made. We'll get to that in the coming week."

Worth noting
  • Tanaka has recorded at least eight strikeouts in each of his first three Major League starts, joining Stephen Strasburg (2010 Nationals) as the only two pitchers since 1900 to accomplish the feat. Tanaka's 28 strikeouts are a new Yankees record for a pitcher in his first three starts, shattering Al Leiter's record of 25 set in 1987.
  • Since allowing a leadoff home run to Melky Cabrera in his Major League debut against the Blue Jays on April 4, Tanaka has allowed only six left-handed batters to reach base (5-for-44, one walk). He has struck out 18 of the 37 right-handed batters he has faced this season (48.6 percent). 
  • The Yankees and Red Sox are 14-14 in the last 28 meetings between the teams, since Sept. 12, 2012. The Yanks were just 6-13 against the Sox last season -- their most losses to Boston in a single season since 1973 (4-14). The Red Sox won six of the nine games played at Fenway Park in 2013.
  • Dustin Pedroia could be on the verge of getting hot for Boston. He's had three straight multihit games.

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