Still no timetable for Jacoby Ellsbury's return

TAMPA, Fla. -- Jacoby Ellsbury looks fit and healthy as he scurries into and out of the Yankees' clubhouse.

The problem is, Ellsbury's destination for the past week has either been the trainer's room or the workout room for treatment and physical therapy on his strained oblique. As of Monday afternoon, the man the Yankees are depending on to start close to 150 games in center field has yet to be cleared for any baseball activities.

“It feels better each and every day,'' Ellsbury said. "The next step will be hitting and throwing everything. I haven’t done that yet, but that would be the next step.”

No one, however, will say when that next step will be. When Ellsbury first revealed the injury on March 15, manager Joe Girardi said he would be shut down for 5-7 days to let the oblique rest. But now, those seven days have gone by and Ellsbury has still not returned to even the lightest drills, and he acknowledged Monday morning that until he even tries to swing a bat again, he can't be certain if he is fully healed.

“I guess all I can tell is just how I feel each and every day,'' he said. "But until I swing a bat, until I throw, until I do really explosive stuff, that will be the real test.”

Ellsbury missed the final two weeks of last spring with a calf injury but still got out of the blocks quickly once the regular season started, batting .312 in April with eight stolen bases, and he believes the lost time this spring will have no real effect on this April, either.

"Right now it would probably amount to just a few spring training games,'' he said. "I know I got quite a few in from the get go. From that standpoint, I’m confident.''

Ellsbury has had 27 at-bats in nine games this spring, and is hitting .222 with just six hits, although one of them was a triple in his final game before the injury. Girardi has said he is not worried about Ellsbury being ready for the season opener just yet, but said that if he had not resumed baseball drills by next Monday, then he would consider the opener in jeopardy. Monday morning in Viera, where the Yankees were playing the Washington Nationals, Girardi said that as long as Ellsbury plays in the final week of spring games, he should be fine. At this point, Ellsbury says he believes he will be ready to go by April 6 -- the season opener.

"I still feel good about that timetable,'' he said. "Obviously I’ll talk to Joe when he gets back tomorrow, just sit back down with them. But as of right now, we’re heading in the right direction.”

Needless to say, a healthy Ellsbury at the top of the Yankees' lineup is vital to the success of an offense that sputtered last season with Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann either out or struggling for much of the season and Ellsbury forced to bat third. No less an authority on the subject than Alex Rodriguez described Ellsbury as "a rock star'' three times in a brief chat Monday morning.

“If he's not the most important, he's one of the most important guys on our team and definitely in our lineup,'' A-Rod said. "He reminds me of a very skilled point guard in baseball. He can do a lot of things very well, and I hated to play against him because he was so dangerous.”

Rodriguez went on to describe Ellsbury as "a unique talent,'' a run producer and "as good as they get.''

"He is certainly one of the guys that I’m super excited about coming back,'' A-Rod said.

Now, the Yankees have to hope that Ellsbury comes back soon.