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Carl Crawford could miss three more months

Boston Red Sox' Carl Crawford plays with a ball during spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 17.

Dave Martin/Associated Press

Boston Red Sox' Carl Crawford plays with a ball during spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 17.

CHICAGO - There’s often a fear when a player seeks a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews for an elbow problem that Tommy John surgery is imminent.

Carl Crawford’s elbow problem is bad, but not that bad.

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The good news/bad news is that the Red Sox outfielder does not need surgery, but it may be up to three months before he gets back on the field, according to a team source.

The key phrase is “up to.’’ Crawford must show he can throw all out from the outfield before he’s activated.

The Red Sox did not offer a timetable for a return in their statement.

“Carl Crawford was examined by the Red Sox medical staff,’’ said the team’s statement. “He was diagnosed as having a left elbow ulnar collateral ligament sprain. A conservative treatment protocol was recommended.

“Carl was also examined by Dr. James Andrews, who was in agreement with the assessment and plan. Carl received a Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injection and will be shut down from baseball activity during the initial phase of his treatment.’’

Normally, Crawford would be able to work his way back as a designated hitter, but David Ortiz is having such an outstanding season that that is not an option. So Crawford’s time away from the field could be prolonged.

Crawford, who signed a seven-year, $142 million deal before last season, had left wrist surgery in the offseason. After a slight setback during spring training, he developed a sore elbow.

He was shut down from throwing, and once his wrist got better, he started playing in extended spring training games as the designated hitter. The elbow, however, never seemed to get better. When Crawford lobbed a ball back to the infield before an extended spring game, he felt pain.

He returned to Boston to be examined. The Red Sox staff did not believe surgery was necessary, but Crawford was concerned enough to seek Andrews’s opinion.

When the Sox were going bad early in the season, there was more of an urgency for Crawford to get back. But since things have gotten better, that urgency has been tempered.

Obviously, they hope the status quo will be sufficient until Crawford can play.

The Sox acquired Marlon Byrd from the Cubs last week, essentially to replace Jacoby Ellsbury as the center fielder. Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney have had good moments so far. Sweeney, in fact, has surpassed all projections, as he entered Thursday night’s game batting .382. And Ross has shown power, with five home runs.

On Thursday night, Bobby Valentine tried starting Lars Anderson in left field. Valentine was hoping to take advantage of Anderson’s bat, even if it meant giving up a little defense.

Anderson has been a first baseman for his entire career but saw limited duty in the outfield in spring training and then played a few games there for Pawtucket.

The Red Sox also have Darnell McDonald in reserve.

At some point this season, there will be a lot of options. By August anyway, Crawford, Ellsbury, and Ryan Kalish (offseason shoulder surgery) will be in the mix.

There are no indications that the Red Sox will try to a deal for another outfielder at this point; it was all they could do to get Byrd when Jason Repko went down.

Byrd was one of the players Cubs president Theo Epstein wanted to move so he could make room for younger players. Epstein was fortunate to have the Red Sox in need of a major league-ready outfielder. When the Cubs took on the majority of Byrd’s salary, the deal was done.

Crawford had his poorest season in the major leagues a year ago, batting .255. He made a slow transition from the comfort of Tampa Bay to the larger-market Red Sox.

When Epstein signed Crawford, he felt he was getting one of the premier athletes in baseball, one who routinely beat the Red Sox with his hitting, base stealing, and defense.

Crawford, a .293 career hitter, had stolen 47 bases in 2010, but swiped only 18 last season as his on-base percentage plummeted to a career-low .289 and his OPS to .694.

The Red Sox worked on trying to simplify his swing during the season, but it never really helped. Crawford did hit better later in the year, but he also had recurring wrist problems that required an occasional cortisone shot.

Crawford never complained about an injury, and like everyone else, he seemed perplexed by his poor season. Unable to fully explain it, he reached the point where he didn’t want to answer any more media questions about it.

And in the season’s final game, he failed to catch a liner to left by Robert Andino that looked playable, giving the Orioles a walkoff win that doomed the Red Sox’ playoff chances.

Crawford took responsibility for his poor season and vowed to return to the form that made him a four-time All-Star. But so far, he hasn’t had a chance to prove it.

Spring training seemed to be a waste of time. Crawford and Valentine both wanted to improve his bunting, feeling that he could utilize his speed to get on base more. But after a rigorous bunting session, Crawford’s wrist was sore and he had to shut it down.

Crawford was left to do running and agility drills while his teammates took part in regular baseball activities.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.
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