The curious case of what ails Ells

BALTIMORE -- Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury can't tell us, which means he can't tell you, why he missed the last six games before returning to the lineup Saturday night.

Check that: Ellsbury won't tell us, which means he won't tell you, why he missed the last six games.

The manager, Bobby Valentine, has been just as evasive in identifying the reason for Ellsbury's absence, which has not been the case for anyone else on the Red Sox roster who has had to miss time. Maybe we're forgetting somebody, but don't think so.

Which makes it all the more curious, of course.

Valentine also gave a curiosity-inducing response before Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles while noting that this season he hasn't seen the same player Ellsbury was in 2011, when he was the runner-up in the American League MVP voting, that Ellsbury never "quite hit his stride this year."

Asked if that was strictly a function of injury -- Ellsbury missed 79 games with a partially dislocated shoulder -- Valentine said: "I don't know. I had a lot of conversations [about him] with my coaching staff, a few with Jacoby. Just a feel. He hasn't had the feel, from what I gather."

Ellsbury was asked about his physical condition and Valentine's comments, in an awkward exchange with reporters who asked him about it in a clubhouse that was nearly deserted by the time he came out.

Here's how the exchange went:

Q. How did it feel to be back?

Ellsbury: "It felt good. It felt good to be back. It was unfortunate we couldn't get that win. I thought the starting pitcher did a good job, but definitely excited to be back."

[Note: Can't be sure whether he meant Orioles starter Steve Johnson or Sox starter Felix Doubront, both of whom pitched pretty well, but we didn't press him on that.]

Q. What was the nature of the injury that kept you out?

Ellsbury: "Ah, nothing really exciting to report on. Good to be back."

Q. Bobby also has been vague about your injury. Was it general soreness, or something else?

Ellsbury: "Um, I mean, just something that I, uh, need to sit out a few days and I, uh, will be back and ready to go the rest of this, you know, this stretch for the next four games."

Q. Did you need to regain strength in order to resume playing, or what was the tipping point that allowed you to come back?

Ellsbury: "They just wanted me to take batting practice, throw, do normal baseball stuff, and once I did that just to be back playing."

Q. How important was it that you play before the season ended?

Ellsbury: "Yeah, we knew I'd be back. It wasn't a big deal, so, but yeah, happy to be out there. We got four games left, you know, finish strong, go into offseason feeling confident."

Q. So there was no thought to calling it a season?

Ellsbury: "No, we knew that, one or two days, I'd be back."

Q. If the circumstances had been different, do you expect you would have played, like, if the team had been in contention?

Ellsbury: "I don't know, leave it up to docs to decide. If I'm going to be out there, I'm going to be out there. So."

Q. Bobby said before the game he never saw the player he saw last season, that you never hit your stride. When he was asked if that was strictly a function of injuries, he said he talked to the coaches, talked to you, and said that maybe it was feel, that you never had the same feel. What's your take?

Ellsbury: "I don't know. I've never really thought of it. I think, you can get back to me tomorrow on that one. I don't really have a response right now."

Q. But do you think it was just because of injuries we haven't seen, or only have seen flashes of the guy we saw last year, the fact that you had to overcome them even after returning to play?

Ellsbury: "I mean, I've only been back, you guys know, a couple of months. Yeah, so I mean, I haven't been back that long. I guess I don't really have an answer for you guys."

Q. How tough has it been, even for these two months, not to have that rhythm like you had last season?

Ellsbury: "Give me the at-bats. My numbers will be right there."

[Note: For the record, Ellsbury has had 289 at-bats this season and has posted a .277/.320/.381 batting line, with four home runs and 26 RBIs.]

Q. I don't want to be an [expletive], but is there any reason for the vagueness regarding your injury?

Ellsbury: "I don't know, what do you mean?"

Q. You haven't said whether you might have a little pain in your side, or a sore hammy, or something like that.

Ellsbury: "We just kept it that way. So."

Q. Even now, after you're back, you're keeping it that way?

Ellsbury: "I'm just happy to be back, man, you know? All right, guys, have a good night."

[Note: For the record, Ellsbury had a single in four trips Saturday night, scored a run, and also threw out a runner attempting to advance to third base.]