Ellsbury a day early and eager to play

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jacoby Ellsbury beat the reporting date for position players by one day when he strolled in Wednesday morning and pronounced himself fully recovered from the fractured ribs that limited him to 18 games last season.

Pitchers and catchers, meanwhile, began their second day of official workouts, which meant first side sessions for pitchers who did not throw Tuesday. That includes front-line relievers, with Daniel Bard,

Bobby Jenks, Jonathan Papelbon and Dan Wheeler forming one group.

Daisuke Matsuzaka will also be throwing for the first time. Interestingly, he was placed in a different group from the other four pitchers expected to be in the rotation -- Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey. Veteran Tim Wakefield filled out their dance card.

Matsuzaka was placed in a group with rookie left-hander Felix Doubront, minor leaguer Alex Wilson and journeyman Matt Fox. Probably doesn’t mean anything, but noticeable nonetheless.

Newly signed Alfredo Aceves, the former Yankee, was also scheduled to throw, in a group that included Hideki Okajima, Brandon Duckworth and Tony Pena Jr.

Ellsbury deflected most questions about last season, and appeared purposely vague when asked specifics about the timing of his clearance to resume activity.

“Every spring training is a fresh start for everybody,’’ said the 27-year-old Ellsbury, who will return to center field on a full-time basis now that the Sox have acquired Carl Crawford.

“I feel good, really good,’’ he said. “I worked hard in the offseason to get to where I’m at right now. I was cleared quite a while ago. I’m hitting, throwing, everything I need to do, I’m ready to go.’’

He acknowledged that the long layoff may require some time to get back into full playing mode, and said he did not know if that would translate to more or fewer at-bats this spring. “But I’ll be ready and 100 percent by Opening Day,’’ he said.

Asked if the criticism he heard last season bothered him, he said: “I’ve put it in the past. Like I said, moving forward, looking forward to 2011.’’

Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe tried to engage Ellsbury in a discussion of whether he thought the criticism was fair, even citing the example of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who was ripped for taking himself out of a game with what was later diagnosed as a torn knee ligament.

“No real comments on that, either,’’ he said. “I’m going to sound like a broken recorder.’’

Ellsbury said he has no qualms about playing at full tilt.

“I’m not worried at all,’’ he said. “That first time sliding, first time diving, there will be no hesitation.’’

Ellsbury said he has yet to speak to Crawford, but welcomed the internal competition between two players who have each stolen 60 bases or more.

“Who’s faster?’’ he said, repeating a question. “I wouldn’t bet against myself.’’

Asked for an over-under on stolen bases, he said: “I don’t know. I’ve got a personal goal, but I’m keeping them my personal goals. I always set them pretty high.’’