Ellsbury may have erred on this chance

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 8, 2010

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — We’re waiting with bated breath to hear how Jacoby Ellsbury is doing.

We may hear about it face-to-face tomorrow, when Ellsbury is scheduled to leave Athletes’ Performance Institute in Arizona after more than a month of rehab for a cracked rib, and will show up in Toronto, where the Red Sox will begin a three-game series.

Manager Terry Francona was anxious to see how Ellsbury is progressing and is hopeful the player can keep accelerating his baseball activities so he can be activated and put one of the longest rehabs from a rib injury in recent memory behind him.

The plan is for Ellsbury to be examined by the medical staff tomorrow, work out with the team for a few days, then report to Fort Myers, to continue his rehabilitation.

If the outfielder returns sometime this month and is the Ellsbury of old, all will be forgotten about how long and downright strange this situation has been.

The Sox are heading into the part of the season when they need to get as many of their regulars as they can back in the lineup. To add Ellsbury’s leadoff ability and speed and his defense would be a huge shot in the arm, as it will be when catcher Victor Martinez (broken thumb) and second baseman Dustin Pedroia (broken foot) come back as well.

Nobody really knows why Ellsbury went to Arizona when the Red Sox, and Boston in general, have the best medical facilities in the world. The Sox are affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital, not Fred Flintstone Hospital, as we’ve been led to believe. Team physician Thomas Gill is considered one of the top orthopedists in the country, so it was strange that Ellsbury, who had five opinions on his broken ribs, would go West for his rehab.

Over the past few weeks, reporters and his teammates have been bombarded with questions about Ellsbury. They currently are unanswerable questions.

Everyone has a different pain tolerance and everyone heals at their own pace. So it’s awfully hard to come out and say anything harsh about Ellsbury. But the occasional raised eyebrows and smirks speak volumes. However, management has been very careful about saying the right things and being supportive of Ellsbury and it will continue to be positive.

The last thing the Red Sox want is for a player of this skill level to be painted as soft, which wouldn’t do them any favors if they ever decided to use Ellsbury as a trade chip in the offseason.

Usually, a professional athlete is ready to take the field again in 3-5 weeks after a rib injury. In hockey and football, which granted are different sports, and in which the athletes are generally tougher, sometimes they play with the injury, like Tom Brady and Wes Welker of the Patriots. As a quarterback, Brady leaves himself open to get popped by a 350-pound lineman, and as a slot receiver Welker deals with mayhem on every play.

One also thinks back to how laudable it was in 1978 when catcher Carlton Fisk played much of the end of the season with a broken rib, feeling “a sword going through my side every time I threw the ball.’’ Longtime baseball executive Bill Lajoie recalls pleading with catcher Lance Parrish not to go onto the field with his broken ribs because he feared Parrish would seriously hurt himself.

We know Ellsbury seemed miffed that the Sox originally treated the ribs as bruised and that after agent Scott Boras asked for an MRI, it was determined they were broken. As Gill tried to explain at the time, the treatment for both scenarios is the same. When Ellsbury came back after about a month away, thinking the ribs were 100 percent, he evidently injured another one while diving for a ball. He went back on the disabled list May 28 after Dr. Frank Jobe discovered the new injury, and went to Athletes’ Performance June 4. He’s been there ever since.

Meanwhile, injured teammates such as Pedroia, Jason Varitek, and Martinez have stayed around to help the team as best they can.

Both Pedroia and Varitek are on crutches and wearing a boot. Pedroia sits in a chair every day during batting practice to offer help and support to the hitters. Varitek was in the bullpen yesterday in shinguards, on one knee blocking balls and playing catch to stay sharp. Jeremy Hermida broke five ribs in a collision similar to the one Ellsbury had with Adrian Beltre and is now starting to take BP. Hermida didn’t go anywhere. A decision will be made on his rehab assignment after the All-Star break. Hermida, who was placed on the DL retroactive to June 10, probably will be back before Ellsbury.

The team obviously gave Ellsbury permission to go to Arizona, but it’s obvious the relationship between Ellsbury and the Sox medical staff may not be wonderful.

Players have the prerogative to go where they feel is best for treatment, but a great majority of the time, unless he is recovering from major knee or shoulder surgery, the player stays with the team.

Last winter, this reporter protested vigorously about the team possibly dealing Ellsbury, even if the yield was Adrian Gonzalez. It was also argued that Ellsbury should have been kept in center field, where he made spectacular catches and showed so much athleticism despite his lower UZR rating. Ellsbury, who started the season in left, is one of the most talented athletes in the game. That hasn’t changed.

But something has taken a hit, and we’re not talking about his ribs.

We’ll get the spin from the player and the agent in the next few days. The team will publicly support him.

But Ellsbury should have stayed with his team and experienced the ups and downs, just like Pedroia, Martinez, Josh Beckett, Varitek, Hermida, and countless others. When Ellsbury does return to full duty, Darnell McDonald or Daniel Nava likely will have to go, which is a shame considering what they’ve done day in and day out. Especially McDonald, a journeyman who has made great strides in resurrecting his career and who has helped as much as anyone keep this team afloat.

Someday, Ellsbury may wish he had handled this differently.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at

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