Ellsbury returns to Red Sox lineup

DENVER -- For the occasion Wednesday, they passed out bobblehead dolls.

That was for Todd Helton's last game as a member of the Colorado Rockies at home. Jacoby Ellsbury's return to the Red Sox lineup on the same night was just a coincidence.

With all due respect, the Sox are much more interested in Ellsbury's return than Helton's farewell.

"We're all looking forward to seeing Jacoby back on the field," manager John Farrell said, "but probably no one more than Jacoby himself. He's been chomping at the bit to get back on the field."

On Tuesday, Farrell said, Ellsbury was re-examined by Dr. Thomas Clanton, the foot specialist who originally confirmed the Sox diagnosis of a small fracture of the navicular bone in Ellsbury's right foot. Clanton cleared him to resume playing, Farrell said, after a 16-game absence. The major leagues' leading base-stealer (52 steals) and elite defender in center field (most of the defensive metrics list him as the best at his position this season) was back at the top of the Sox lineup, batting leadoff.

"We'd like to have him get three at-bats and five innings in center field," Farrell said. "That's a reasonable goal for his first game back."

And if Ellsbury wants to test the foot on the basepaths, that's up to him, Farrell said.

"If he feels comfortable, yeah," Farrell said when asked if Ellsbury has the green light to run. "All the running drills he's gone through, he comes in here hopefully free of mind that he can't further [aggravate] the injury. He might deal with soreness from time to time; we expect that. But prior to his reaggravating it [in New York], he was still dealing with soreness and managed it. Now he resumes."

Ellsbury, who was batting .320 in his previous 17 games before shutting it down on Sept. 6, is batting .299 overall, just a percentage point shy of his third .300 season in the big leagues. Farrell said the Sox will try to get him as many at-bats as possible this weekend in Baltimore.

The Sox didn't exactly falter in his absence, going 10-6. Dustin Pedroia filled in nicely in the leadoff spot, batting .327 (16 for 49) with 8 runs scored in that role.

But Ellsbury changes the dynamic, Farrell said.

"He can impact a game, obviously, as soon as he gets on base," Farrell said. "He's a threat on every pitch that's thrown, he's got the potential to steal. What's been most impressive with his running game is his efficiency: 52 steals, only 4 caught. He's astute. It really comes into play how pitchers might choose to attack hitters while he's on the basepaths. [That's] in addition to his range in center field. He's a very good player on both sides of the ball."