BALTIMORE -- The season is almost a month old, but Jacoby Ellsbury seems to be just now hitting his stride.
Ellsbury began the year poorly and found himself dropped in the batting order as manager Terry Francona tried desperately to find a lineup which worked.
Returned to the top of the order last week on the West Coast, Ellsbury has responded as the Red Sox hoped he would.
Thursday night, he had his second three-hit game in as many nights. Since moving to the top of the order in Anaheim, Ellsbury is 12-for-25 (.480) with six doubles, six runs scored and three RBI.
"I'm just trying to have a quality at-bat each time I go out there,'' said Ellsbury. "That's the biggest thing.''
Ellsbury said returning to the top spot in the lineup didn't change his approach.
"Not really,'' he said. "I come to play and prepare exactly the same every single day, no matter where I'm hitting in the lineup. It just happened that I've been swinging the bat well at the top of the lineup. I just try to stick to my game and use my tools.''
In the sixth inning, the Red Sox had runners at second and third and with first base open and two outs. With J.D. Drew due, the Orioles elected to walk him to load the bases and pitch to Saltalamacchia.
The move made sense from a strategic standpoint. Saltalamacchia came into the game hitting just .186 and was 0-for-2 before that at-bat.
But the move hurt Saltalamacchia's pride.
"It kind of ticked me off a little bit,'' acknowledged the catcher.
He couldn't get his revenge immediately, though Saltalamacchia had a nice at-bat which ended in him hitting the ball to the warning track in left-center for the final out.
"The way the ball's been traveling here at night,'' said the catcher, "I knew I hit it good, but I didn't hit it that good (for it to go out).''
But in the eighth, two innings later, Saltalamacchia got a second chance and didn't miss, drilling a single to center with the bases loaded, scoring Jed Lowrie.
"That's the way the game goes,'' said Saltalamacchia. "I was looking to put good wood on it and I did. I felt good at the plate. I fouled some pitches off and then (reliever Mike Gonzalez) threw a real good pitch up and in, and I was able to get on top of it.''
Kevin Youkilis felt some stiffness in his left hip after a first-inning takeout slide at second base. He remained in the game until the bottom of the eighth inning when he was lifted for Jed Lowrie at third base.
"As the game went on, it locked up a little more,'' said Youkilis. "But I should be good to play (Friday night). It was more of a precaution that Tito took me out. I'll play through a lot of stuff, but Tito said it was best to give it a rest so I can play (Friday).''
Fracona gave Marco Scutaro a start at shortstop.
"I want to keep him productive,'' said Francona.
Though there's been no official declaration from Francona, it's clear that Lowrie is the starting shortstop.
"He's pretty professional,'' said Francona of how Scutaro has been handling the reduced playing time. "I don't think he's real happy. I don't think I would be. Again, my responsibility is to put the best team out there and you hope that the players will handle it professionally, which he does.
"I'm not sure I'd want him to be completely happy. I mean, guys want to play. They're competitive.''
Scutaro was 0-for-4 in Thursday's win.