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Jacoby Ellsbury starts baseball activities for Yankees, but no timetable set for return

The Yankees' Jacoby Ellsbury bounces a baseball off

The Yankees' Jacoby Ellsbury bounces a baseball off his bat while waiting his turn during batting practice before Game 1 of the ALDS against the Indians at Progressive Field on Oct. 4, 2017. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

KISSIMMEE, Fla.— Jacoby Ellsbury has begun baseball activities.

But what that means in terms of a return to the field for the 35-year-old is anyone’s guess.

A tip: Don’t bet on it being anytime soon, not based on the generalities heard on Monday.

“Just in the beginning stages of baseball activities,” Ellsbury said between workouts at Steinbrenner Field. “So as far as a timeline when I’ll be playing, we’re not sure yet. But definitely headed in the right direction.”

The rub, of course, is defining that.

“Hopefully we can start to lay out a more concrete plan for him over the next few days,” manager Aaron Boone said before Monday night’s exhibition game against the Braves.

Asked if he has an idea of what might be realistic for Ellsbury in the coming weeks or months, Boone said he does not.

“It feels really speculatory of me to even go down that road,” Boone said. “So first things first. It does seem like he’s improving and getting better, and obviously he’s here now. Hopefully he just continues improving and at some point becomes an option for us.”

Ellsbury, still owed $47 million ($21 million this season and next and a $5 million buyout for 2021), did not play last season because of an assortment of injuries that started in spring training with an oblique issue. The most significant of those injuries, which he said Monday basically impacted everything else because he was trying to “compensate” for it, was a torn labrum in his left hip that eventually required surgery Aug. 6, ending his season.

He entered the offseason healthy, but a bout of plantar fasciitis in his right foot — something Ellsbury said he’s dealt with on and off “for years” — sidetracked his winter work. That kept him in Arizona, where he lives, until he arrived in Tampa on Sunday.

“I still have to build up,” Ellsbury said. “I’m still doing my running and lifting and all the stretching that comes with the hip surgery. It’s hard to say right now. In the coming days, we’ll kind of map out what we’re going to do the next week, two weeks, that kind of thing.”

As much as Yankees fans have tried to forget Ellsbury, the cold facts at this point are that they could use a healthy version of him.

Aaron Hicks is slated to start the season on the injured list, meaning Brett Gardner, at this stage of his career better suited for leftfield, will shift to center. Giancarlo Stanton will see more time in leftfield, but the Yankees would prefer to use him as the DH and limit his outfield action. Clint Frazier is 6-for-37 (.162) in spring training after a season ruined by concussion issues. Tyler Wade is likely to make the club over Frazier because of his versatility — Wade can play all three outfield positions plus second base, shortstop and third base — but there’s no question the Yankees suddenly find themselves short of outfielders.

Predicting exactly when Ellsbury could be a factor, however, is very much a fool’s errand.

Asked specifically if there was any doubt in his mind that he’d be back at some point in 2019, Ellsbury passed.

“The timetable is as soon as possible,” he said. “It’s hard to give an exact day, but we’re doing everything [possible]. I’m in baseball activities. That’s the good news. So you stay optimistic and just put the work in.”

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