BOSTON -- After four months of a soap opera that featured his cracked ribs, reports of a misdiagnosis by the Boston Red Sox medical staff, and rumblings of teammates miffed that he didn't seem willing to play through the pain and also that he wasn't in the dugout while he was on the disabled list, Jacoby Ellsbury finally was back where he belonged on Wednesday: in center field and at the top of the Boston Red Sox batting order for the night's game against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park.
Ellsbury was activated after batting practice, with Daniel Nava being sent back down to Pawtucket to make room for the fleet Boston outfielder.
Ellsbury went 0-for-5 and had two putouts in center in the Red Sox's 9-1 loss.
"It felt good to be playing out there again. Too bad we didn't get that win," Ellsbury said. "Stepping into the box here is something that's familiar to me. I have a lot of confidence. I have had success at this level before. It's just trying to go back to what you love and what you do best."
Despite the controversy swirling around Ellsbury, who has been a hot topic on Boston sports radio, he received a very warm reception from the sellout crowd of 37,902, with some giving him a standing ovation.
"I thought the fans' reception was pretty nice," Ellsbury said. "The fans here have always treated me very well from day one. This place will always be home to me. Tonight was a perfect example."
"We're thankful to have him back," said manager Terry Francona. "The results weren't there but that doesn't mean he was hurting. Hopefully he'll show up tomorrow and feel good. That's important."
Ellsbury was initially placed on the DL on April 12 after a collision with third baseman Adrian Beltre caused the cracked ribs. Ellsbury returned on May 22, but was able to play in only three more games before being placed back on the DL on May 28.
For the season, Ellsbury has played in only 10 games and is batting .224 (11-for-49) with no homers, three RBIs and two stolen bases.
Before the game, Ellsbury preferred to look forward rather than back at the firestorm his absence from the team during his rehabilitation caused.
"I'm excited to be back in the lineup," said Ellsbury. "It has been a long time coming. The timetable [for the return] is what it is. You want to go out and play. You want to be part of a pennant race. I'm happy to be here today, playing. It's like Christmas, counting down the days. I'm excited."
Not only has Ellsbury returned to active duty, he also has been restored to his more natural position of center field. When the season began, Ellsbury had been shifted from center field to left, so the Sox could install veteran Mike Cameron in center. Cameron, though, is on the DL because of an abdominal strain, so center field once again belongs to Ellsbury.
There was criticism of Ellsbury in Boston over the fact that while other injured Red Sox -- notably Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek -- remained with the team during their DL time, he was doing his rehab at the Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona.
Ellsbury did rejoin the team in Toronto during the weekend of July 9-11, and detailed, reading through written notes, his injury and the Red Sox's initial diagnosis that proved not to be correct, leading to more time necessary for healing. He was apparently responding to the whispers that he was soft, unwilling or unable to play in pain.
"When I got diagnosed [with the cracked ribs], it only took three weeks before I played in my first [rehab] game," said Ellsbury on Wednesday.
"I think there have been some misunderstandings," said Ellsbury. "My teammates have been great. They sent text messages telling me to take my time to get ready to come back healthy and that they were behind me 100 percent. Everybody has been great to me, telling me 'We know you're battling through it, wanting to get back to play as soon as possible.'"
He also tried to absolve the Red Sox of any culpability in the handling of his case.
"Everything that was executed [in the rehab plan] was done with the Red Sox's consent. They were part of every decision that was made," said Ellsbury, who set a Red Sox record and was tops in the majors last year with 70 stolen bases.
Ellsbury is not without discomfort.
"I know that I won't be rid of [the discomfort], but I feel I can still go out and be productive and play at a high level," said Ellsbury. "I know how my body feels. I've played with pain before. Injuries are part of the game. As long as I know I'm not going to reinjure it, we all know there's going to be some discomfort, which is fine. I will play through that."
Francona, meanwhile, knows that l'affaire Ellsbury won't disappear just because he's back in the lineup.
"There probably isn't closure," said Francona. "We have to keep an eye on it. He'll feel worried until next year. We want him to be productive and see the player he is. He gives us a dimension we really haven't had. But we're going to manage his workload before the game and if we do that, that will give him a chance to show his athleticism during the game."
Earlier Wednesday, speaking on WEEI, Francona said that Ellsbury will have no restrictions upon his return, but he indicated the outfielder is "probably not ready to play every day." Francona also said he would limit Ellsbury's number of swings in batting practice so as not to risk aggravating the injury.
"He may not be 100 percent peak efficiency, I don't know how you could be," Francona said. "He doesn't have the reps that everybody else does. But having him in there will certainly help us, we've all seen what he can do. He has a chance to change the game with his speed, his defense, with his bat. The other teams have to respect that speed when he gets on base. He is going to make us a better team."
For his part, Ellsbury sounded like he was ready to go.
"I'll try to stay out there until they tell me you're not in the lineup," he said. "I'll be preparing like I'll be in the lineup tomorrow."