TAMPA, Fla. - After taking some light swings last week, injured centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury said he was "pretty confident'' he'd be in the Opening Day lineup. On Tuesday, he said, "I'm ready now.''
Ellsbury has not played in a Grapefruit League since March 15 because of an oblique injury. After five at-bats Tuesday in a minor-league game, he offered no qualifiers regarding Monday's opener at Yankee Stadium against the Blue Jays.
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The 31-year-old started in centerfield and played five innings, going 2-for-5 with an RBI batting once an inning against Phillies minor-leaguers.
"Felt good getting out there,'' he said. "Five ABs, five innings of defense. Tested a little bit of everything; a ball in the gap, got on base. It was a good day.''
Joe Girardi told reporters in Fort Myers that Ellsbury would be back in the lineup Wednesday against the Rays at Steinbrenner Field.
All along, Girardi said the injury wasn't that severe while still taking things slowly with Ellsbury. He started doing dry swings early last week and progressed to tee-and-toss drills and indoor batting practice before finally heading outdoors for BP over the weekend.
He said it's been more than a week since he felt the injury.
"That's why we took it like we did in the sense they didn't want me feeling it during my activity,'' Ellsbury said. "So let's take it each day, let's not push it, let's make sure when you do come back, we know it's ready to go. And we knew that coming into today I wouldn't have any issues, but until you do it . . . They did a good job of getting me back pretty quick.''
Ellsbury's importance to the Yankees cannot be overstated. He was one of their few consistent offensive performers last season, hitting .271 with a .328 on-base percentage, 16 homers and 70 RBIs.
One concern after Ellsbury signed a seven-year, $153-million deal before last season was his injury history, but he played in a team-high 149 games last year. He missed the final 10 games of the season with a right hamstring strain but entered camp feeling 100 percent, as most players say at that time of year.
Tuesday's results only reinforced to Ellsbury what he felt from the time he went down March 15: that the injury wasn't serious and Opening Day was never in peril.
"I thought from the get-go, from my conversations with them, that this was kind of the day we were shooting for to get back into game action, and we nailed it,'' Ellsbury said. "Everything went as well as it could have today.''
With David Lennon