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The strange case of Jacoby Ellsbury

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  June 30, 2010 11:02 AM

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Jacoby Ellsbury was in Cleveland with the Red Sox in early June and left the team to be checked out in Los Angeles. Then came news the next day that he would head for the Athletes' Performance center in Phoenix to rest and rehab his broken ribs.

The Sox said at the time he would be there two weeks. A few days after that, the Sox took the unusual step of making Dr. Thomas Gill available to the media via conference call to defend the team's treatment of Ellsbury. All parties, Gill said several times, were on the same page.

The calendar flips to July tomorrow and it's going on a solid month since the Red Sox have seen Ellsbury.

Here's Theo Epstein's explanation:

"He’s making progress every day in the sense that his symptoms are subsiding slowly but surely. That’s a really important element of this because he can’t start baseball activities until the symptoms are much less than when we last saw him. He’s making progress to that end. There’s no definitive timetable on it, but we’re getting closer and closer to the time when we see him start to ramp up his physical activities and baseball activities and contemplate a rehab assignment We’re not there yet but we’re making progress nonetheless because he’s starting to feel better."

So is he staying in Arizona?

“At some point he’ll transition either back [to Boston] or to Fort Myers for baseball activities."

So there's no timetable and "at some point" he'll be back with the team.

Two things:

1. I personally do not doubt that he was injured on April 11 and again on May 23. Cracked ribs are a difficult injury for a baseball player to return from (witness Jeremy Hermida, who has been out nearly a month) and Ellsbury did it twice.

2. But it's very unusual for even an injured player to disappear from a team for a month during the season. Even guys who have season-ending injuries show their face at home games from time to time. Mike Lowell, who pretty much hates his situation, shows up every day and is part of the team.

It sounds like Ellsbury speaks fairly often to head athletic trainer Mike Reinold, who relays information to Epstein and Terry Francona.

Athletes' Performance is a world-class facility and perhaps that is where Ellsbury should be. But the longer he is away, the idea that there is some sort of disconnect or conflict between Ellsbury and the team becomes harder to ignore.

Every injury is different and only Ellsbury knows how he feels. But the idea that a team in any sport would allow a prominent player to basically disappear for a month in season is strange.

As to when Ellsbury will play again, it's a mystery. If Ellsbury started baseball activities next week, it would take him at least three weeks to get ready to play in a major league game. So we're talking August at this point — if then.

Meanwhile, Ellsbury's locker at Fenway Park gets dusty and his name never comes up among the players.

In the big picture, maybe it just doesn't matter. The Sox are a game out of first, the team has tremendous chemistry and their offense is the best in baseball. Better to concern yourself with the guys who are here than the guys who are not.

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