Yanks OF Ellsbury 'headed in the right direction'

TAMPA, Fla. -- As spring-training injuries have begun to ravage the New York Yankees' outfield, a healthier Jacoby Ellsbury returned to the team this week, making his first appearance around the full squad in about a year.

"It's nice to be going, doing baseball activity," said the 34-year-old, who is coming off hip, oblique and foot injuries that sidelined him for all of last season.

Ellsbury officially came back Sunday and underwent a physical. Cleared to play catch at short distances and to hit off tees, he is slowly getting back in baseball shape. Whenever he is able to play in a game, it'll be his first time playing in pinstripes since October 2017.

"As far as a timeline of when I'll be playing, we're not sure yet," Ellsbury said Monday. "But definitely headed in the right direction."

His goal, he added, is to get back "as soon as possible."

Manager Aaron Boone echoed much of that before the Yankees' game Monday night against the Atlanta Braves in Orlando, Florida. He, too, wasn't comfortable yet outlining a timetable for Ellsbury's potential return to game action.

"It feels really speculatory for me to even go down that road," Boone said. "It does seem like he's improving and getting better, and obviously he's here now.

"Hopefully he just continues improving, and at some point becomes an option for us."

It was after a spring-training batting practice last March that Ellsbury was originally diagnosed with an oblique strain. He missed the rest of the spring because of the injury. While receiving rehab at-bats at the Yankees' facility in Tampa just after the regular season began, Ellsbury hurt his hip.

Then, as he recovered from the hip injury -- which ultimately required an August surgery, effectively ending his 2018 season -- an old issue with plantar fascia in Ellsbury's right foot arose.

"Some of you guys have mentioned the back. The back wasn't the issue," Ellsbury said to reporters. "It was just that the hip needed the surgery and I was trying to compensate for it. That's really it. Once I had the surgery, my back was great.

"After I had the surgery, we wanted to lock that [plantar fasciitis] down and make sure that was taken care of. But it hasn't slowed down my hip recovery. It's just something we're taking care of."

Last month, general manager Brian Cashman said that team officials agreed to let the veteran outfielder continue his hip and foot rehab near his home in Arizona while the team began spring training in Florida. Cashman said it was in part because Ellsbury felt comfortable with the trainers with whom he was working at the facility near his home.

"Been working hard five/six days a week, six/seven hours a day," Ellsbury said. "Just putting in the time to be in a position right here, and looking forward to helping out this year."

Ellsbury said he's still building up the strength in his hip, doing the running, weightlifting and stretching that accompanies that rehab. He also is doing regular maintenance on his foot.

"You want to be out there, for sure. That's why I put in the time, put in the work," he said. "You want to be out there, you want to contribute, you want to be part of the team. And the best way for me to do that right now is just put the work in in the gym, and the training room, the batting cage and that sort of thing. If I do that, we can get back on the field quicker."

Ellsbury's return comes as the Yankees have gone through nearly this entire month without center fielder Aaron Hicks, who has been dealing with a tight back. Boone said Sunday that Hicks will be on the injured list to start the season.

Highly touted prospect and fellow center fielder Estevan Florial is also dealing with a serious ailment. He broke his right wrist last Saturday and will miss significant time.

A follow-up MRI and a visit to a hand specialist Monday resulted in Florial being put in a cast for "a few weeks," according to Boone. The manager also said the MRI revealed a second break to a separate bone in Florial's right hand. Both bones are expected to heal at the same pace.