Ortiz to Pawtucket, to Sox likely next week

BOSTON -- The last time David Ortiz played in the minor leagues was nearly five years ago, when he went to Triple-A Pawtucket in 2008 on a rehab assignment. He had been on the disabled list with a partially torn sheath in his left wrist, which would cause him to miss 45 games.

Ortiz needed exactly three games to decide he was ready to return to Boston, hitting home runs in each of the three games and deciding that 12 plate appearances was enough. So while Red Sox manager John Farrell said the club expects Ortiz to need 20 to 30 plate appearances on a new rehab assignment that begins Thursday night in Pawtucket, they’re leaving the timetable entirely in Ortiz’s hands.

“His return date to us is still uncertain at this point,’’ Farrell said before Wednesday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles. “That’s going to depend on David and how comfortable he feels in the box with his timing.

“We will assume somewhere in the 20- to 30 at-bat range would be expected that he’ll need."

Ortiz played in a simulated game Monday in Fort Myers, Fla., and an extended spring training game Tuesday, and reported no issues with the strained right Achilles tendon that so far has cost him 11 weeks of playing time -- the last 10 weeks of the 2012 season, in which he came off the DL, played one game, and then shut it down for the season, and the first week of this season. By late Wednesday afternoon, he was headed north for Pawtucket's home opener Thursday night.

Ortiz originally was scheduled to play in Florida on Wednesday (in fact, Farrell said before Wednesday night's game in Boston that Ortiz played in Florida), but he was not at JetBlue Park, according to ESPNBoston.com correspondent Rick Weber.

Ortiz had come into camp expressing a desire to be ready for Opening Day, but it quickly became apparent that wasn’t going to happen, as Ortiz did not participate in any exhibition games and at one point in early March shut down all activity for more than a week because of continuing discomfort. Not only was his right foot still troublesome, but he also developed some pain in his left heel, the result, the Sox said, of the ramped-up activity after being unable to do any running during the winter.

“More than anything," Farrell said, “the last four, five days he seemingly turned the corner. More aggressive running the bases, the way he feels at the plate. He’s in a pretty good place, all things considered."

Ortiz’s arrival Thursday in Pawtucket is a happy coincidence for the PawSox, who play their home opener that night. If the Red Sox timetable of 20 to 30 at-bats holds true, Ortiz would be on track to be activated April 19, when the Sox return home to face the Kansas City Royals.

But stay tuned: Perhaps Ortiz will derive extra motivation from the possibility of facing former manager Terry Francona in Cleveland, where the Sox play three games beginning next Tuesday, and pronounce himself ready.