Will Middlebrooks, Jacoby Ellsbury close to returning

The ranks of the walking wounded in the Sox clubhouse will soon thin. Will Middlebrooks and Jacoby Ellsbury are close to returning.

Middlebrooks, sidelined after exiting a week ago with hamstring tightness, will likely take the All-Star break to fully recover, then return to Boston’s lineup against Tampa next weekend.

“He looked really good out there running, says he feels really good,” manager Bobby Valentine said. “I’m leaning towards not having him play [Sunday against the Yankees]; unless there’s a major setback somewhere between now and then; he looked really good running today, he did all his agility work, said he feels nothing.”

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Earlier Sunday, Jacoby Ellsbury went 1 for 4 with a run for Triple A Pawtucket. He flew out to left, singled to center, grounded out to third, and grounded into a double play.

“I haven’t talked to him after the game today,” Valentine said. “When he’s ready he’ll be ready; it’s probably getting pretty close.”

Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, on the DL with a neck strain, threw in the outfield during pregame today as well.

“He looked like he’s more comfortable and throwing with a better motion,” Valentine said. “I’ll be talking to him later today about a plan of action.”

Assorted nuggets from Valentine’s pregame press conference:

On the challenging first half: “I’d say that it was extremely challenging; Managing a new team is very challenging, and we had some situations that added to the mix.

“New guys, where they’re going to hit, how we’re going to play together, what kind of health we’re going to have is yet to be seen. I’m very optimistic; the guys I have today I think we can win a ballgame with, and the guys I have after the break, I think we’ll be the same type of group.”

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On Saturday night’s hero, Pedro Ciriaco: “He played extremely well in spring training, he hit like .400, so what’s there not to like when a guy is always on base. He has speed, which allows him to advance around the bases rather quickly; his defense was very good in spring training, he played very good defense last night. He was able to bunt for a hit in spring training on a number of occasions, and he did that again last night. All the things we saw in spring training over about 15 games came into view last night.”

On his All-Star Break: “I’m still waiting to see how many meetings I’m going to have here, if I’m needed, then I’ll make a plan. I’m not planning on [going out of town]; I can go south or I’m sure to hit the coast, or even north, I’ve had a lot of invitations out there; we’ll see what goes on.”