Jacoby Ellsbury returned Wednesday night, giving a boost to a Yankees lineup that already was one of the most productive in baseball.
Since a right knee sprain placed him on the disabled list in mid-May, the Yankees have averaged 4.8 runs per game, the second most in the majors during that span (behind Toronto, which has scored 5.6 runs per game since May 20).
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"We've been able to play pretty decent ball over that time," manager Joe Girardi said of the team's performance without Ellsbury.
The Yankees went 22-21 in Ellsbury's absence, and Girardi said "some kids stepped up in the outfield for us, but you want that consistency in your lineup . . . and we've got that again."
Ellsbury, who went 1-for-4 Wednesday night, was hitting .324 with a .412 on-base percentage and .372 slugging percentage in 37 games before his injury. He is also second on the team in steals (with 14, behind Brett Gardner's 15), and despite ranking 11th among the team's position players in games played, he is fourth in wins above replacement, according to the statistical website FanGraphs.com (Ellsbury has a 1.4 WAR).
"I think he played great. He was on base and that's what we want him to do," Girardi said. "You can say 'not a lot of extra-base hits,' but [when] you have 14 . . . steals in [about] 30 games, it's like adding an extra-base hit to one of those. I thought he was playing very, very well and we need him back."
Ellsbury rejoins Gardner, who entered Wednesday night's game hitting .296 with a .373 OBP, restoring one of baseball's better one-two punches at the top of the lineup.
"It's great to have," Girardi said of the duo. "It's just a way we have to create runs on days when we don't hit the ball out of the ballpark. And he really gives us another speed dimension, so it's really good to have him back."
"The good thing about getting Ells back is you can maybe give Gardy a day here and a day there and maybe have a little more of a rotation," the manager added.
Ellsbury should also help the team's defense, which entered Wednesday night in a tie for 25th in defensive efficiency (the percentage of balls in play converted to outs).
Since he came into the league with the Red Sox in 2007, Ellsbury is 17th out of 839 outfielders in the advanced fielding metric Ultimate Zone Rating, according to FanGraphs (UZR uses play-by-play data to estimate a fielder's value based on factors including the location and speed of balls in play).
This season, Yankees outfielders have ranked 21st in this metric, giving Girardi and the Yankees another reason to be excited about Ellsbury's return.