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Cautious return for Cameron

He’ll rest, play left occasionally

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / May 25, 2010

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Red Sox left spring training planning to use Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, and Jacoby Ellsbury as their starting outfielders. That combination has been in the lineup four times in the first 46 games.

Ellsbury cracked four ribs April 11 and did not return until Saturday. Cameron, who last played April 18, will be activated today after being on the disabled list for 35 days with a lower abdominal tear.

But as the Red Sox become whole, how they plan to use their outfielders has changed.

Cameron will no longer necessarily be the everyday center fielder. He and manager Terry Francona have discussed plans to use him in left field on occasion to lessen the strain on his body. The Sox also plan to continue to give Jeremy Hermida playing time.

“We’re hopefully not going to run [Cameron] out there every day for a while. We know that and I think he knows that,’’ Francona said before last night’s 6-1 win over the Rays. “But having him activated, we have Hermida and now we have [Ellsbury] back, we think we can do this.’’

Hermida has not hit for average but he picked up his 24th RBI last night, fifth on the team. He also has 10 extra-base hits.

“We said in spring training this is why we kind of have this guy. We have a problem, we feel like we can run him out there,’’ Francona said. “There’s nothing wrong with getting Hermida into games because he’s going to help us win.’’

Cameron’s injury, which could require surgery after the season, can be managed. The 37-year-old returned sooner than expected, in part because of the good shape he keeps himself in.

Cameron spoke to several players who had similar injuries, including outfielders Torii Hunter and Josh Hamilton, to get a gauge of what to expect. They told him he would be out two months. He came back much sooner.

“I feel pretty good. My body’s been responding well,’’ Cameron said. “That was the biggest thing. I was getting the response from my body that I needed to have.’’

Cameron played in eight rehabilitation games, five for Pawtucket, then three for Portland. He was 9 for 27 with 3 doubles, 3 home runs, 6 RBIs, and 4 walks. Cameron showed his readiness Sunday, going 3 for 5 with a walkoff home run in the 10th inning.

“I think I may be the first guy to play 10 innings in a rehab assignment start,’’ he said.

Said Francona: “He’s kind of answered everything we needed to know.’’

As is their custom, the Sox gave Cameron a day off before his planned activation. He worked out before last night’s game and took batting practice.

“As days went on, things went a little bit better,’’ Cameron said. “I’m really excited about the opportunity to go back out in the field.’’

To make room for Cameron on the active roster, the Sox designated Darnell McDonald for assignment. The longtime minor leaguer performed well. But now the Red Sox will have the lineup they assembled during the winter.

“That should help us,’’ Francona said.

Cameron hopes that as the Sox get healthier, it will be reflected in the standings.

“Having Jacoby back, I think, it adds some cohesion to the lineup because as we’ve seen the last few years, he has been the table-setter for this team and kind of fuels everything. I think that’s bigger than anything else,’’ he said.

“I’ve always been able to add just another dynamic to the lineup and to be able to do certain things. I think it’s good because guys are starting to feel better about themselves playing the game and doing the things we set out to do.

“That’s probably the most important thing now, being able to have confidence playing some of the better teams.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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