In some ways, Jacoby Ellsbury is still removed from the All-Star form he showcased last season, but the Red Sox center fielder took a necessary step toward that goal Friday.
The 2011 American League MVP runner-up played in his first rehab game for Boston's Gulf Coast League affiliate and helped the Red Sox defeat the Twins, 5-2.
It was his first appearance in a professional contest since suffering a right shoulder subluxation on April 13. In order to ease the transition back into live games, he started at designated hitter and batted out of the leadoff spot, his customary place in the Red Sox lineup.
Ellsbury struck out swinging in his first at-bat before walking in the third inning. He stroked an run-scoring double to left field in the fourth. The 28-year-old went down on strikes again -- this time looking -- to finish the fifth and grounded out two innings later.
All in all, the 2011 All-Star finished 1-for-4 with a double, an RBI and a walk.
Ellsbury, who is in his penultimate year under contract with Boston, was batting .192 (5-for-26) with two doubles and three RBIs through seven games for the Red Sox when Rays shortstop Reid Brignac fell on his right shoulder on a play at second base April 13.
Also rehabbing with the GCL Red Sox on Friday was fellow All-Star Carl Crawford. The 30-year-old left fielder went 0-for-2 with two walks, a run scored and a strikeout before being taken out for a defensive replacement in the seventh.
Through his four games in the GCL, Crawford is 2-for-11 with a double, five walks, three strikeouts and was caught stealing once.
Crawford is in the midst of recovery from a sprained UCL in his left elbow that has kept from spending any time in the Majors this season.
Because of his type of injury, the Red Sox are keeping a keen eye on how the former Rays star fares in the outfield. He caught three flyouts Friday and played a line-drive single without issue as well.
Crawford earned praise from Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine for one particular defensive play he made Thursday.
"He made a throw from the outfield all the way home," Valentine told MLB.com. "We have the cutoff man set up for him, where he can throw it short. He didn't want to throw it short. He wanted to throw it long just to see how it felt. He said it felt fine."
Barring any setbacks, both players expected to rejoin the Major League club around the middle of July.