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Jacoby Ellsbury decision a delicate situation

Jacoby Ellsbury was injured while stealing a base Thursday night and hasn’t played since. In fact, Ellsbury has missed 239 games since the start of the 2010 season.Matt Slocum/Associated Press/Associated Press

NEW YORK — Which Red Sox player seems most like a Bruin?

WEEI posed the question during a Sox broadcast this week (Geico text question of the night) and Dustin Pedroia was a landslide winner.

Is it OK to admit that Jacoby Ellsbury was not first runner-up?

If there are hockey guys and baseball guys, the wildly talented Ellsbury would certainly qualify as a baseball guy. Trot Nixon was a hockey guy — most likely to drop in front of a Zdeno Chara slapper. J.D. Drew was a baseball guy.

Ryan Dempster, Jonny Gomes, Darnell McDonald? All hockey. Jed Lowrie? Baseball.


You get the point.

This is not a rip job on Ellsbury. There's no calling into question Ellsbury's toughness or willingness to play hurt. No need for MLB.com columnist Tom Werner to run to the keyboard and defend his player. Ellsbury missed the first two games of the Yankee showdown this weekend, but he's played in 54 of 57 games in 2013. He's practically been Cal Ripken Jr. Let's call him Iron Man Ellsbury. Everyday Ells.

We all love Jacoby and his game. This is merely a discussion regarding one of Boston baseball's most valuable assets. He's going to be a free agent at the end of this season and there are legitimate questions about his durability and his dramatic power outage.

Ellsbury got hurt Thursday stealing his fifth base in a 9-2 victory over the Phillies. The Red Sox were leading, 6-2, in the eighth when Ellsbury stole second and tweaked his groin. Ellsbury didn't score after any of his five steals, but we all know you can never have too big of a lead in the Phillies' bandbox.

Before Thursday's game, Ellsbury and Jerry Remy were the Sox' co-record-holders with four steals in a single game. Now Ellsbury stands alone. The Phillies saluted Ellsbury's deed, sending him the historic base.


Ellsbury admitted he had some extra incentive in Thursday's game. Phillies pitcher Jeremy Horst drilled Ellsbury in the back after a Gomes homer in the sixth and the Sox center fielder immediately stole second and third.

"Definitely lit a fire a little bit,'' said the outfielder. "I was going to try to get to third as quickly as possible.''

It was downright Rondo-esque. Ellsbury now has 21 steals in 23 attempts. After a slow start (he was down to .241 May 20), he's hitting .400 over his last 10 games and looks ready to get rolling.

But when Ellsbury hits the shelf, we always worry.

Nobody knew how badly he was hurt when he crashed into Adrian Beltre early in the 2010 season. Ellsbury suffered broken ribs and wound up playing in only 18 games that year.

Then came his breakout season of 2011 (.321, 32 homers, 105 RBIs) when he was runner-up to Justin Verlander in American League MVP voting.

Ellsbury got hurt again last year, suffering a subluxation of his right (non-throwing) shoulder in the Red Sox home opener. He played in only 74 games in the Bobby Valentine train wreck season.

The Sox need Ellsbury. Saturday night's starting outfield was Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mike Carp. They had a terrific night, but they are not exactly Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, and Dwight Evans.

Super agent Scott Boras is going to sell Ellsbury as a modern-day Joe DiMaggio this winter, but Ellsbury has missed 239 games since the start of the 2010 season (thanks to intrepid Globe baseball scribe Peter Abraham for that one).


"He's still day-to-day,'' Sox manager John Farrell said Saturday. "The improvement Jacoby has shown is very encouraging. I'm not ruling out [Sunday night].''

Don't bet on it. The Sox have an offday Monday and would love to give Ellsbury four days to let his injury heal.

This is a critical time for Ellsbury. He's still only 29, has exceptional tools, and has one monster season on his résumé. He is lifetime .294 hitter who hit 32 homers in 2011 and stole 70 bases in 2009. A lot of teams, including the Mets and the Phillies, will be in the market for a big-ticket center fielder this winter. Boras loves to have his clients test the market.

But Ellsbury's durability remains a big question — as is his loss of home run power. He has missed 44 percent of all Red Sox games since the start of 2010 and, since hitting 32 homers in 2011, Ellsbury has hit five home runs in 534 at bats over 128 games.

Wonder what Harry Sinden and Barry Melrose would say?

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.