If there was any lingering doubt over the condition of Jacoby Ellsbury’s nether regions, consider it dismissed for the time being.
After missing five games with a groin injury, the Red Sox centerfielder jumped right back into the thick of it Thursday night in the rubber game of a three-game set against Texas, scoring a key run late in the game to tie it up and setting the stage for some vintage David Ortiz theatrics in the bottom of the ninth.
After beginning the game with a pair of singles, a run scored and a ground-rule double, Ellsbury tied the game up at 3-all in the seventh after Mike Napoli managed to beat out the back-end of a double-play return throw from Elvis Andrus and Ellsbury raced home.
"Obviously he's not running at full speed, but the way he's swinging the bat, he continued that here tonight, both against good left-handed pitching and the right-handers that came in there," said Sox manager John Farrell. "It's really good to have him back in the lineup."
Ellsbury tweaked his groin May 30 while setting a new Red Sox record of five stolen bases in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, and there was some recent debate about whether the 29-year-old would have to gingerly climb aboard the disabled list while recovering.
The five-game hiatus did temporarily cost Ellsbury a lead in the major league stolen-base race, though.
The night of his big heist, Ellsbury pulled two ahead of San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera with 21 on the year. During the span of Ellsbury’s absence, Cabrera kept up the pressure, stealing at least one base in each of his last five games, twice swiping two. Cabrera now leads the majors with 26, while Ellsbury and Baltimore’s Nate McLouth remain tied at second with 21.
Cabrera, however, has been caught red-handed five times to Ellsbury’s two.
Ellsbury — whose best season was 2011, when he batted .321 with 32 homers and 105 RBI and finished second to Detroit's Justin Verlander in the AL MVP vote — is currently tied for third in the majors in triples with five.
While he’s still only batting .280 on the season, Ellsbury is turning up the heat at the right time and once again functioning as a key cog in the Red Sox machine both at the plate and between the bases.
Farrell said while he was glad to see Ellsbury get back out on the field Thursday, the coaching staff will continue to keep a close eye on him to avoid a costly re-aggravation of the injury.
"It's something that we'll continue to talk with him about as he comes out of each game, monitoring it," said Farrell. "We kind of left it in his hands as far as how aggressive he'll be on the base paths. But the fact (is) he was at least able to show some explosiveness on the field — otherwise we wouldn't have put him in there. We don't want to restrict him completely (from) any kind of base-stealing opportunities. But all things considered, we'll balance all that and monitor how he's coming out of each game.
“The fact is, a lot of his game is based on speed and it’s based on range in the outfield,” Farrell said. “When your groin or your legs are involved, it’s going to take away from it.”