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Jacoby Ellsbury's calf problem not serious

Yankees' Jacoby Ellsbury strikes out during the sixth

Yankees' Jacoby Ellsbury strikes out during the sixth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., on Sunday, March 2, 2014. Credit: AP / Frank Gunn

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jacoby Ellsbury skipped Thursday's road trip to JetBlue Park, the spring training home of his former team. But Ellsbury, a frequent visitor to the disabled list with the Red Sox, still wound up in a familiar place that afternoon when the Yankees sent him to an MRI tube for a precautionary test on his ailing right calf.

After the relentless stream of injuries last season, the Yankees have been conditioned to fear the worst from the mere mention of an MRI. This time, however, Joe Girardi was relieved to announce before Thursday night's game that Ellsbury's test came back negative. "This is good news," Girardi said.

Ellsbury's leg may be structurally sound, but the worrisome part is how an injury that initially was described as minor "tightness'' in his right calf wound up resulting in an MRI visit five days later. Clearly, Ellsbury is not healing as quickly as the Yankees expected -- or the calf issue was more serious than previously thought.

Girardi said he is hopeful that Ellsbury will be able to take batting practice Friday, with a possible weekend return. But with Monday's break in the schedule, it seems more likely that the Yankees will wait until Tuesday, when the Phillies visit Steinbrenner Field.

"We want to make sure he's 100 percent before we send him out there,'' Girardi said. "I think he feels it a little bit -- that's why we're just being cautious. We want to make sure he's healthy.''

Given Ellsbury's medical history, that could be difficult to pin down. In two of the past four seasons, he was limited to 18 games and 74 games because of injured ribs and a dislocated shoulder, respectively. Those were the result of collisions -- much more serious incidents than what he is dealing with now.

The problem with Ellsbury's calf injury is the timing. After this weekend, the Yankees will have only five Grapefruit League games left before the April 1 opener, and Girardi would like to get a few looks at his regular lineup in the last remaining days leading up to Houston.

"I think if he gets three or four games in, he'll be fine,'' Girardi said, adding that Ellsbury could stack up at-bats in minor-league games if necessary.

Ellsbury wasn't available in the clubhouse after his MRI, but he has said getting ready for the season won't be a concern. Through Thursday, he was batting .174 (4-for-23) with two doubles and a home run in nine games. "I'm very confident he'll be ready April 1," Girardi said.

Ryan "in jeopardy" for opener. Brendan Ryan, who last played March 4 because of lower-back stiffness, was scratched from Thursday night's lineup with upper-back spasms and could begin the season on the disabled list because of time lost to injury. Ryan has only eight at-bats to this point and is not expected to play this weekend, raising the possibility he could miss Opening Day. "It's in jeopardy," Girardi said after the Yankees' 3-2 win over the Red Sox. Ryan felt his back tighten up Thursday on a throw during pregame infield practice, and if he's unable to start the season, that will force the Yankees to choose between Eduardo Nuñez, Dean Anna or Yangervis Solarte as Derek Jeter's primary backup.

Masahiro Tanaka will start Saturday against the Twins in Fort Myers, but Girardi refused to reveal when Tanaka will make his regular-season debut. "We're just not ready to share it yet," he said. "I want to make sure that everything goes according to plan, that everyone feels good before we decide to do it." Recent comments by pitching coach Larry Rothschild suggest that Tanaka will start April 4 in Toronto.

New York Sports