TAMPA, Fla. — It was only a minor league intrasquad game and it didn’t have many thrilling moments.
But for Jacoby Ellsbury, Tuesday’s scrimmage was something to cheer about.
Ellsbury took another big step toward getting back into the New York Yankees lineup in time for opening day when he batted six times in a soggy game filled with New York Yankees Double-A players.
“It was a pretty effective day,” said Ellsbury, who has been out with a sore right calf since March 14. “Everything felt good. I’m very pleased.”
There was still cause for caution, though.
Ellsbury didn’t play in the outfield Tuesday and didn’t run the bases — a courtesy runner took his place when he drew two walks. Ellsbury said that was due more to the conditions, which caused the postponement of Tuesday’s scheduled minor league Triple-A spring game between the RailRiders and Lehigh Valley IronPigs for the second straight day after grounds were left slick by sporadic rain.
“I think I would have played defense today if it weren’t for the rain. But I could have,” Ellsbury said.
He also said he’s getting close to the point where he can test the healing calf on the basepaths.
“That’ll probably be tomorrow. Today, we just got some swings in,” Ellsbury said. “I’ve been running for the last few days pretty hard. You want to do it in a controlled environment.”
Besides, it wasn’t as if Ellsbury spent his time in minor league camp limping around.
His first at-bat of Tuesday’s game produced a sharp grounder to first base, which forced Ellsbury to hustle down the line.
“First at-bat, that groundout, my first step out of the box I didn’t feel anything,” Ellsbury said. “And that’s what you want.”
He followed with a line out, two walks, a strikeout and a bullet that shot over shortstop and into center field for a single. That hit ended Ellsbury’s work for the day.
“The first step in the sense of just playing in a game,” said Ellsbury, who was scratched from the Yankees lineup March 16 with tightness in his calf and hasn’t returned to action since. “The main thing is just seeing some pitches, getting timing. I felt pretty good up there.”
The Yankees felt great about making the 30-year-old Ellsbury their biggest free agent acquisition during the offseason, signing him away from the world champion Boston Red Sox for $153 million over seven years.
He is expected to be the Yankees center fielder for the foreseeable future, after putting up a career .297 batting average with 476 runs, 314 RBI, 241 stolen bases and 251 extra-base hits — including 65 homers and 155 doubles. Ellsbury enters the season needing 135 hits to reach 1,000 for his career.
And he plans to get started with that when the Yankees open the season in Houston on April 1.
“I feel like I can just hop right in and play right now and be ready to go,” said Ellsbury, adding that he doesn’t envision starting the regular season on the disabled list. “We have some time. I’ll take advantage of these next four days and do everything I can to be ready for opening day. A lot of guys are anxious for the season to get going. It has an exciting feel to it. I’m excited for opening day, excited for the season to get underway.”