Cameron takes a left turn

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- When the Red Sox first signed veteran Mike Cameron last winter and announced that he would take over in center field and Jacoby Ellsbury would be moved to left, one of the reasons given was that Cameron had never played left.

That plan lasted 11 games.

Cameron will mark his return to the Sox lineup Tuesday night, after an absence of five weeks and 34 games due to an abdominal tear, by playing center field against the Tampa Bay Rays, with Ellsbury getting the night off. But when both are in the lineup, manager Terry Francona said Tuesday, confirming a story on WEEI.com, the plan is for Ellsbury to return to center field and Cameron to play left, a position he has started just one game in his life -- with Triple-A Pawtucket earlier this month while on rehab assignment.

“I think that’s probably the right thing to do, at least for the moment, in the near future,’’ Francona said. “I talked to both of them, and both were pretty good about it. Both said, whatever we need to do. I said we can’t play Cam every day yet. Hopefully we get to that point, [but] we need to be aware of what he’s gone through and keep him going forward. Because we have [Jeremy] Hermida, it’s kind of a natural back and forth.’’

Cameron was supposed to give the Sox an upgrade in their outfield defense in center -- he led the National League in a number of defensive categories last season for Milwaukee -- with the overall outfield defense also improving with Ellsbury replacing free agent Jason Bay in left.

Sox general manager Theo Epstein had indicated during the winter that the move was hardly a permanent one and could even change at some point this season, but it’s unlikely anyone anticipated it happening this soon.

On the face of it, it would seem to signal the concern that Cameron’s injury could be problematic later in the season -- he has told reporters he expects he’ll need surgery at some point -- and at the least the 37-year-old outfielder will need to be rested more than originally planned. Francona acknowledged that the shift to left may save some wear and tear.

“I would say uncharted waters for me,’’ Cameron said regarding what level of discomfort he expects to be dealing with. "We’ll find out. The times I’ve played I’ve gotten better and better. It’s just a matter of how much the body is able to withstand.

“It’s almost like spring training for me a little bit, as far as going out and playing, regroup, do it again the next day and the next day. I’m sure there will be a little more of an exhaustion period here.’’

If Cameron has an issue with the move to left, he’s keeping his own counsel, though he did mention the unfamiliarity of the position and the adjustment that will entail, especially learning the Green Monster in Fenway. Ellsbury had played left as a rookie in 2007.

“I don’t think I’ll have any problem with that,’’ Cameron said of the move, noting that the Sox had raised the possibility he’d be playing left when he first signed.

“As to what I have to do, I feel pretty good. We’ll see how it goes. I can’t really be concerned with that. I just want to get a chance to run around and play the game the best I can possibly play it. If that’s the case [playing left field], that’s what it is.’’

The shift of Cameron to left suggests the Sox may indeed look to platoon him with the left-handed-hitting Hermida, which certainly was not Cameron’s intention when he signed and declared himself an everyday player. Hermida has 24 RBIs in a part-time role, 15 of those RBIs coming with two outs and runners in scoring position.

Francona indicated that Hermida, who was scheduled to play left field Tuesday night, will get playing time while Ellsbury and Cameron work their way back into daily playing status. Ellsbury has a single in 14 at-bats in the three games he has played since his return from a hairline fracture in four ribs. He went 0 for 5 Monday night, grounding out in all five of his plate appearances.