- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Three months after Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Reid Brignac fell on Jacoby Ellsbury's right shoulder on a force play at second base, the Boston Red Sox center fielder returned to the Sox lineup, leading off and playing center field.
"The doctors, myself, we're comfortable you can expect to see the real me, going out there and playing hard," Ellsbury said in the clubhouse before Friday's 3-1 win against the Rays. Ellsbury was 1-for-5 with a single to right field. He flied out to left in the first, struck out twice and grounded into 4-6-3 double play.
Ellsbury was sidelined with what was called a partially dislocated shoulder. He batted .185 (5-for-27) on his rehab stint, playing eight games in a progression that began in the Gulf Coast League and also included stops in Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. He played in Boston's first seven games of the season, batting .192 (5-for-26) with no home runs and 3 RBIs.
Last season, of course, Ellsbury was widely regarded as the most dynamic player in the American League, leading the majors in total bases (364) and extra-base hits (83). He was the first leadoff hitter to lead the major leagues in total bases since Bobby Bonds in 1973 (341). Ellsbury was named an All-Star for the first time, won a Gold Glove for his play in center field and finished second in AL MVP balloting behind Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander.
With 39 stolen bases and 32 home runs, he became the first Sox player ever to hit at least 30 home runs with at least 30 stolen bases. The 14 outfielders the Sox used in the season's first half combined to hit 20 homers, 13 by Cody Ross.
To make room for Ellsbury on the roster, the Red Sox announced that pitcher Justin Germano had been designated for assignment.
Ellsbury was running on a 3-and-2 pitch April 13 when Rays shortstop Brignac, who moved toward second when Ellsbury broke for the bag, fielded a ground ball by Dustin Pedroia, stepped on the base and threw to first. Brignac was upended by Ellsbury's slide and fell heavily on the center fielder's shoulder.
"We feel comfortable, the doctors cleared me to play, they feel confident I should be able to go out there and play to my abilities," Ellsbury said pregame. "What my teammates see, what the fans see, nothing should change."
Also back in the lineup was third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who had missed the last six games before the break with a tight left hamstring. Middlebrooks was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts before being replaced in the field in the bottom of the eighth inning by Nick Punto. Manager Bobby Valentine said afterward that the move was strictly precautionary and that Middlebrooks was fine.