ST. PETERSBURG -- When Jacoby Ellsbury stops stealing bases, it can only mean that he's not hitting.

As the old saying goes, speed doesn't go into slumps. The same can not be said for Ellsbury's bat.

The left-handed-hitting leadoff man entered Tuesday night's game with the Rays hitting .176 with four runs in his previous 13 games. Ellsbury last stole a base on June 17 at Philadelphia.

"This is a facet of going through a Major League season," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "It happens to everybody. When guys are young, it's a legitimate question. I think that we believe in him as a player, and I think he's proven that we should. He just has to keep plugging and try not to become impatient. Try to stay in your game and be patient."

The patience part has been tougher of late. After walking 14 times in May, Ellsbury drew just three bases on balls in all of June.

Perhaps that is a sign of just how much opponents want to keep him off the basepaths.

"They're definitely going to be more aggressive in the zone and not nibble," reasoned Ellsbury.

Hitting coach Dave Magadan doesn't see anything out of the ordinary with Ellsbury's swing.

"He's had bad aim," Magadan said. "He hit two balls right on the screws to Carlos Lee in Houston to left field. He lined out a couple of times the last couple of times at home. That's all you can do as a hitter. You can go up there and hit the ball hard. That's all you have control over, and hopefully balls fall in."

When the season started, Francona had Ellsbury hitting near the bottom of the order to take pressure off him. But in a sign of how much respect Ellsbury has earned in a short time, Francona said he currently has no temptation to move his leadoff man down.

"I really don't want to," Francona said. "What he can do, and I know it's a little bit of a switch from philosophy earlier in the season, but what he showed he can do ignites us so much. We believe in him. Once you believe in somebody, again, I just think you have to kind of let him get through it."

Ellsbury doesn't seem to have lost any confidence.

"I feel good," Ellsbury said. "I'm swinging the bat all right. When you're hitting the ball well, it's a matter of time before they start falling for you."