It’s an encouraging night for Ellsbury

By Dan Hickling
Globe Correspondent / May 19, 2010

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PORTLAND, Maine — It wasn’t the most productive night Jacoby Ellsbury ever had at the plate.

Then again, it wasn’t production the Red Sox outfielder was after.

Ellsbury, playing with the Double A Portland Sea Dogs last night as he continues his rehab after spending a month on the shelf with four cracked ribs, was more interested in the small stuff.

His comfort level. His timing. His feel for the field.

Ellsbury was encouraged on all counts, even as he went 0 for 3 with a walk in the Sea Dogs’ 2-1 win over the New Britain Rock Cats, before a capacity Hadlock Field crowd of 7,368 (well above normal for a chilly mid-May school night).

“Even though I didn’t get a hit, my at-bats felt comfortable,’’ said Ellsbury, who went 1 for 3 for Triple A Pawtucket Monday. “Seeing the pitches. Having good takes. Hits will come when the timing’s on.

“Tonight, I wanted to get some longer ABs, and get some good swings on some pitches.’’

When he last played here, in April 2007, Ellsbury put up outrageous numbers that placed him on the fast track to Fenway Park.

Portland fans take great pride in the ex-Sea Dogs who have moved on to Boston, currently numbering a dozen, plus former manager Ron Johnson, now a member of Terry Francona’s coaching staff.

Ellsbury was welcomed back with a standing ovation before his first at-bat, and he responded with a wave.

“It was fun out there,’’ he said. “The fans were great.

“You don’t want to be here for this reason. But it’s nice to see a lot of familiar faces.

“My time here was great. We won the Eastern League [in 2006], and it was a great time to be a Sea Dog.’’

Ellsbury led off the first but never got the bat off his shoulder, working a five-pitch walk off New Britain righthander Carlos Gutierrez.

His legs didn’t get much of a test, either, as he was singled to second by Che-Hsuan Lin, then scored easily when Ryan Kalish reached on an error.

Ellsbury led off the third, too, and battled to a full count, fouling a pitch off his foot (with no apparent ill effect) before grounding to third.

“My first two at-bats, I was trying to see some pitches,’’ he said. “Get that timing down. I thought I did pretty good by getting deep in the count.’’

A pop to shallow right in the fifth, and a foul pop to the catcher in the eighth completed his night at the plate.

“My third AB, I ran down the line and I felt pretty good,’’ said Ellsbury. “The fourth one, I think I was also a little anxious. He threw me a changeup and I got out in front of it a little bit.’’

Ellsbury caught a routine fly ball in center field that elicited great cheers from the crowd.

“It could have been one my greatest catches of all time,’’ he said, tongue in cheek. “That’s the most applause I ever got for a fly ball.’’

Or for going hitless.

Ellsbury returned to Boston to meet with Francona and the Red Sox medical staff. Whether he will need more rehab time or be cleared to play in Boston will be decided soon.

Ellsbury departed, but center fielder Mike Cameron will be arriving in Portland soon. Cameron, recovering from a lower abdominal strain, is scheduled to play a rehab game with the Sea Dogs today.

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