- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 16, 2011

FORT MYERS, FLA. (AP) - Jacoby Ellsbury stood in the batting cage, swinging freely from the left side at balls set on a tee and thrown underhanded from 15 feet.

The Red Sox fleet center fielder didn’t wince or wail in pain on a sunny Wednesday morning.

Ellsbury feels good again. He said he’s 100 percent healthy after he broke five ribs last year then endured more heat when his willingness to play hurt was questioned on talk shows.

No wonder, after being limited to 18 games, he has no interest in talking about his turbulent 2010 season.

“I put it in the past,” Ellsbury said of the criticism. “I’m moving forward, excited about 2011.”

But was it unfair to question his toughness when only he knew how he really felt?

“I’m moving on,” Ellsbury repeated, “moving on, 2011.”

Racing on may be more like it.

He set a club record with 70 stolen bases in 2009. Now he’s joined by left-fielder Carl Crawford, who swiped 60 bags that year and 47 last year before leaving Tampa Bay for Boston as a free agent.

Ellsbury wouldn’t predict who would steal more bases this year, but, “Who’s faster? I wouldn’t bet against myself,” he said with a smile.

It’s an expression that was rarely seen last year when he may have had more MRIs or CT scans than RBIs (5).

He wasn’t thrilled when the Red Sox decided before the season to move him to left field after acquiring Mike Cameron to play center. Then on April 11, Ellsbury broke his ribs in his sixth game when he and third baseman Adrian Beltre collided while chasing a ball in short left field.

Ellsbury’s first comeback ended on May 24 after just three games, again because of fractured ribs. He returned on Aug. 5 and lasted just nine games before re-injuring ribs on the left side in a collision at first base with Rangers pitcher Tommy Hunter in Texas.

For the rest of the season, Red Sox fans wondered what was taking him so long to return.

“It was awkward, but it’s all just noise and meaningless,” Boston general manager Theo Epstein said Wednesday. “The bottom line is everyone was trying to find solutions. He was trying to get back on the field, we were trying to get him back on the field, and his injuries were severe enough that that wasn’t possible.”

Story Continues →