Ellsbury to begin rehab Friday

BOSTON -- Jacoby Ellsbury is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Friday in Fort Myers, manager Bobby Valentine said, which would place him on schedule to return to the Red Sox no later than July 18, a week after the All-Star Game.

Ellsbury took batting practice on the field at Fenway on Tuesday, shagged fly balls and played catch with coach Alex Ochoa, Valentine said. He will join another rehabbing outfielder, Carl Crawford, in Fort Myers, though Crawford's attempts to play have been washed out the last two days by rain associated with tropical storm Debby. With Ellsbury also going to Boston's Gulf Coast League entry, Valentine acknowledged that Crawford will be ready to play in the field.

Rehabilitation assigments for position players can last a maximum of 20 days. Crawford's assignment began last Saturday; the latest he could be activated by the major league team is July 13, when the Sox resume playing after the All-Star break in Florida with a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. It would not be unrealistic to imagine that Ellsbury would be activated at the same time.

Crawford, who began the season on the disabled list after wrist surgery and then sprained the ligament in his throwing elbow, has yet to play this season. Ellsbury appeared in seven games before going on the disabled list with a partially dislocated shoulder on April 14. The MVP runner-up has missed 66 games entering play Tuesday night. The Sox are 36-30 in those games.

"Might be DHing Friday, might be,'' Valentine said. "(Hitting coach) Dave Magadan really likes the way he's been swinging. I saw him yesterday. He looked strong.

"Optimistic. I'm cautious but it's great. We got him to the point where he can be back on the field, and that means you start looking forward to the time he's on the field here.''

Valentine said he believes Ellsbury is close to returning to playing the outfield as well. "I think the medical staff has the DH as the first step in, get his legs underneath him.''