Jacoby Ellsbury's serious shoulder injury means most Boston fans will see this as cold comfort, but outfielder Carl Crawford is inching his way closer to a return.
The Boston Globe's Pete Abraham reports that Crawford, who's recovering from wrist surgery and a sore throwing elbow, is headed back to Florida and will soon see action in extended spring training. Initially, Crawford's elbow will limit him to DH duty, but Abraham notes that the left fielder "could return next month."
Prior to Crawford's elbow soreness, the team had hoped he'd be actived by May 1. That timetable seems ambitious since Crawford will need 50 or so plate appearances in Florida before he's ready, but, barring further setbacks, a return shortly thereafter seems like a reasonable expectation.
Crawford has already taken batting practice, but until he's able to throw and play the field on an extended basis (in addition to getting into game shape), he's not a candidate for activation. The Sox, after all, need an outfielder, not a DH. If Crawford's elbow remains a concern, then it's unlikely he'll be able to play anywhere other than left upon his return. Fortunately for Boston, they have a number of guys on the roster who can hold down center in Ellsbury's absence.
Once Crawford is back, the Sox are of course hoping he'll improve upon a fairly awful 2011 season. Last year, Crawford managed a batting line of just .255/.289/.405, which is far out of step with his career norms. An utterly miserable April dragged down Crawford's overall numbers, and while he wasn't great the rest of the way by any stretch of reason, he was solid. There's also little doubt that his injury problems in 2011 sapped his productivity. If he's finally healthy, then his batting average on balls in play should return to established levels, and that should improve his overall profile.
Crawford may never be the "igniter" that was on turf in Tampa Bay, and he's probably not going to perform up to his contract in Boston, but he's going to be better than he was last season. In the absence of Ellsbury, the Sox will take that. Now Crawford just needs to get healthy.
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