BALTIMORE -- Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who has missed the previous six games, five of them losses, because of a physical issue that manager Bobby Valentine has declined to identify, returned to the lineup Saturday night to face an Orioles team that with a victory could move back into a first-place tie with the Yankees in the American League East.
"He's back at the top of the lineup," Valentine said Saturday. "Hopefully he won't have any feelings during batting practice. Play the next few days, then go home on a good note."
Ellsbury has not discussed his condition. A source close to the player said that he did not have a specific injury but was dealing with "general soreness." Valentine disputed that characterization on Friday.
"This isn't a situation that is threatening is the way I see it," the manager said before Saturday's game. "It's to get him to feel 100 percent which I think he does. If there was anything that took five days of his winter where he couldn't work out, I wouldn't even have to think about it. But that doesn't seem to be the case."
It's a curious situation, no doubt impacted by Boston's place in the standings. Ordinarily, players are expected to play through lesser aches and pains; it's part of the lexicon of the game that the last time a player feels 100 percent is the first day of spring training.
Why is he playing now with five games left?
"Just because he wants to," Valentine said. "He's a good player, there are teams playing for the pennant, and we should put our best foot forward."
Ellsbury, the MVP runner-up in 2011, is batting .277 with 4 home runs and 26 RBIs. His OBP is .321, his slugging percentage .382. He missed 79 games with a partially separated shoulder, and has shown only occasional flashes of the player he was last season, although as his shoulder got stronger and he got greater extension on his swing, he resembled the old Ellsbury.
"I didn't see him play that way [2011 form] this year," Valentine said. [He] did not quite hit his stride this year."
Was that a function of his injuries?
"I don't know," Valentine said. "I had a lot of conversations [about him] with my coaching staff, a few with Jacoby. Just a feel. He hasn't had the feel, from what I gather."