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Ellsbury, Crawford getting close to return

Seeing Jacoby Ellsbury on the field before the game is a good sign for the Sox. Jim Rogash/Getty Images

BOSTON -- While the Boston Red Sox endured another shuffle to their constantly changing outfield Tuesday, the two stars waiting in the wings took another positive step forward.

Jacoby Ellsbury took live batting practice and ran the bases at Fenway Park while Carl Crawford threw from 90 feet. Both are getting to the point where the team can map out a timetable for their returns.

Manager Bobby Valentine said that Ellsbury is “close to game activities,” adding that everything in his rehab from a subluxation of his right shoulder has gone well to this point.

“I saw him yesterday, he hit real well,” Valentine said. “He swung the bat about 20 times yesterday. He did both live work and tee work today, and he feels good. That’s very encouraging. Close to game activities. I don’t mean tomorrow, but he’s close. He has made great, steady progress.”

While Valentine did not give any further hints regarding Ellsbury’s schedule, he did do so for Crawford.

“He’s close,” Valentine said of Crawford, who is recovering from a left elbow injury. “[He could be playing rehab games] by next week, if not sooner.”

Crawford began the year on the DL after left wrist surgery. Ellsbury played seven games before suffering his injury in a slide at second base against Tampa Bay in the home opener.

In other clubhouse news:

-- Reliever Andrew Bailey, recovering from right thumb surgery, is about to embark on his own course toward game action. Valentine said that he met with Bailey on Tuesday and the right-hander will have a couple of mound sessions and a simulated game soon. From there, barring any setbacks, it is on to extended spring training in Florida and then to rehab games in the minors.

-- While Josh Beckett remains sidelined, fill-in Franklin Morales remains a starter, although he bounced back so well from his spot start Sunday night in Chicago that Valentine said he is strong enough to pitch out of the bullpen.

That will not happen, barring anything unforeseen, and Morales will take plenty of momentum into his next scheduled start Saturday against Atlanta. The lefty struck out a career-high nine batters with zero walks in five innings of a 7-4 win over the Cubs.

“To answer that bell and fill that void is huge,” Valentine said. “He’s a starter as we speak.”

-- Boston’s nine-game homestand beginning Tuesday night is the team’s second-longest of the season. Valentine sees it as a great opportunity to improve upon a 14-19 mark at Fenway Park.

“That’s the good news. We’ll have a winning record at home when it’s all over,” Valentine said when asked about the struggles at home. “That means we’ll win a lot more than we normally do.”

Entering Tuesday, only four teams in all of baseball have fewer home wins than the Red Sox.