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Red Sox need leadoff hitter to replace Ellsbury

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 24, 2014 at 6:52 pm •  Published: February 24, 2014

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Now batting first for the Boston Red Sox?

Good question.

The departure of Jacoby Ellsbury left a vacancy at the top of the lineup. Daniel Nava and Shane Victorino were manager John Farrell's first two candidates to fill it and he recently mentioned Jonny Gomes as another possibility.

None of them will lead the majors with 52 stolen bases as Ellsbury did last season — "If I can start halfway between first and second, maybe I've got a shot," Nava said — but all have a knack for getting on base so the big hitters can drive them in.

Nava's .385 on-base percentage was fifth in the AL last season and Victorino's .351 was 23rd. Ellsbury finished 19th at .355 then signed a seven-year contract with the New York Yankees.

Gomes, at .344, platoons with Nava in left field and could hit first when he plays, despite having more power and less speed than the typical leadoff batter.

"I hit first a lot in the minor leagues," Gomes said Monday. "When you look at the numbers without names being next to them you say, 'OK, this guy bats first.' And then the name pops up and, 'Oh, no, we can't have this guy.' Why not? What happened?"

None of the three candidates would have to change their approach much, if at all. But they didn't bat first much last year when Ellsbury had that spot for 134 games for the World Series champions. Dustin Pedroia led off 11 times, Nava nine and Victorino eight

"It doesn't matter where I hit," Victorino said. "It doesn't matter where I play."

The Red Sox also must replace Ellsbury in center field, where his speed helped him race to catch balls in the gaps. Jackie Bradley Jr. takes over after an inconsistent first year. Victorino could shift from right field to play there. And Grady Sizemore, sidelined the past two seasons after some outstanding years in Cleveland, could see time in center.

"It was definitely different," Bradley said of last season, when he won a roster spot with a strong spring training only to falter after that. "I learned a lot. You know what you're getting into now and I leave last year (behind). I'm excited and I'm ready for the opportunity to show what I've got."

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