TAMPA, Fla. - Frantically surging back and forth like a mouse seeking a way out of a maze, Jacoby Ellsbury finally made a mad dash to safety.
And it was exactly the kind of situation he needed to put any doubts about his injured right calf to rest.
Ellsbury once again played the center of attention Friday at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders camp - and this time, he even played center field - while trying to overcome the sore calf that has kept him out of the New York Yankees lineup for two weeks.
“Felt good,” said Ellsbury, who first complained of tightness in his calf more than two weeks ago and hasn’t played in a major league exhibition game since March 14. “I think the big thing is the confidence you feel in it and I felt comfortable. It was nice to get the games in.”
Especially a game of cat-and-mouse.
During his fifth at-bat of a minor league scrimmage - forced when rain in area postponed a scheduled trip to Bradenton for the Triple-A RailRiders - Ellsbury had to turn on the afterburners to beat out an infield single to shortstop.
He moved to second base on a single, then passed the biggest test yet for his injured calf.
Ellsbury broke back towards second on a hard liner back to the mound, then had to reverse course and sprint to third base when the liner fell out of the pitcher’s glove and to the ground. Ellsbury slid into third base as the throw went to second for a force out, and he scored on John Ryan Murphy’s infield single to shortstop.
“That’s what you want to see,” Ellsbury said of his scramble on the base paths. “A play that’s unusual - you’re not anticipating something like that - going back to second and realizing it popped out of his glove. That’s tough to emulate on the practice field.”
Ellsbury also had to run a bit to glove a bouncing single to center field, and went back toward the wall while watching a home run from a Yankees Double-A hitter sail over the fence at the spring training minor league complex. Those are things he didn’t get to do Tuesday when Ellsbury simply batted six times during his last workout with the RailRiders. He followed that by playing five innings of center field in a Single-A game Wednesday before taking a break Thursday.
“I had 16 at-bats in four days, played defense,” Ellsbury said. “I didn’t get a lot of balls today, but I had to turn and run. I thought it went well.”
His timing hasn’t been bad, either.
Ellsbury had two singles during the last of his five at-bats for the RailRiders on Friday, raising his batting average to .333 (5-15) over the three minor league games he’s played. Along with his infield hit in the fourth inning, Ellsbury also pushed a single over a leaping Double-A second baseman and into right field in his final at-bat.
“Usually, I don’t try to go after results too much,” said Ellsbury, who signed a seven-year, $153 million contract with the Yankees during the offseason after hitting .297 over seven seasons with the Boston Red Sox. “It’s how you feel and how you’re seeing the ball. I thought I saw the ball well today, got those two hits, felt pretty comfortable in the box.”
That’s exactly what he plans to tell Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who will decide if Ellsbury will open the season in New York’s Opening Day lineup Tuesday in Houston.
“I’ll report to Joe how everything went, let him know everything went well,” the 30-year-old Ellsbury said. “Through the last couple days, I got done everything I needed to do. It’s their call, but I’ll let them know it went really well today and extremely well the last few days.”