Pawtucket next step for Ellsbury

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The return of Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury may finally be in sight.

Limited to just nine games by five fractured ribs and subsequent complications, Ellsbury is supposed to play nine innings for the Gulf Coast League Sox on Thursday in Fort Myers, Fla. Assuming that goes well, the plan, according to a source, is for Ellsbury to report to Triple-A Pawtucket and play two or three games there before the Sox decide what the next step should be.

The best-case scenario has Ellsbury back in time for next weekend's four-game series against the Yankees in the Bronx.

The Sox's outfield could use the help. J.D. Drew said the strained left hamstring that caused him to miss the last two games should not keep him from playing Friday night against the Tigers in Fenway, but said the injury is likely to require close monitoring the rest of the season, even if Wednesday's MRI showed no bleeding, according to Sox manager Terry Francona.

Red Sox outfielders collectively batted .192 (23-for-120) on the team's just-completed 10-game road trip. Boston went 6-4.

Ellsbury has not played since May 24 after fracturing five ribs in an April 11 collision with Adrian Beltre -- and subsequently straining a back muscle and sustaining nerve damage, he contends, because one of the fractured ribs had gone undiagnosed.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.