Ellsbury holds no ill will about playoff benching

Ellsbury holds no ill will about playoff benching

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Jacoby Ellsbury was last seen wearing a Yankees uniform, he was leaving the field following batting practice for the American League Wild Card Game, disappointed that his name was not in the lineup but offering to come off the bench if needed.

Ellsbury did pinch-hit late in the evening, but he couldn't keep Dallas Keuchel and the Astros from sending the Yankees packing for the winter. As Ellsbury returns for a third season in pinstripes, the 32-year-old center fielder said that there are no fences to be mended with manager Joe Girardi.

"I talked to Joe that day. He knows how bad I want to play, how much time I put in to playing, being the player I am," Ellsbury said. "We left it at that. Nothing else needs to be said. I guess the best way you could put it is, I went right into the offseason working out, getting ready for this season."

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Ellsbury batted .257 with seven home runs, 33 RBIs and 21 steals in 111 games, but he never seemed to fully recover from a right knee sprain sustained on May 19 in Washington. Ellsbury posted a .324/.412/.372 split line before going on the disabled list, but he managed just .224/.269/.332 after returning on July 8.

Those struggles prompted Girardi to start Brett Gardner over Ellsbury in center field, with lefty masher Chris Young getting the nod in left field.

"Brett Gardner has been pretty successful here, too," Girardi said. "Maybe he wasn't as big a free-agent signing as Jacoby Ellsbury, but Brett Gardner has been extremely productive in his career when you look at it. That was a hard decision. I was going to disappoint someone immensely no matter if I sat Jacoby or I sat Gardy."

As he moves closer to the midpoint of a seven-year, $153 million contract, Ellsbury said that being benched for the playoff game did not affect his relationship with Girardi.

"No; I know those are valid questions to ask, but it really doesn't have a bearing on this season," Ellsbury said. "I want to win, he wants to win. I'm a team player. Like I told them when I first came here, if you want to play me at any position, bat me anywhere in the lineup, hit me different places.

"I guess whatever helps the team wins, whatever he thinks is best for the team, I'm behind it. But he knows where I stand on playing each and every day, wanting to play each and every day."

Ellsbury said that his knee now feels as strong and healthy as it did for the first six weeks of the regular season, acknowledging that he may have hurried back from the disabled list.

"I knew my team needed me to play," Ellsbury said. "You try to convince yourself you're 100 percent, ready to go. I thought I was pretty close, but it wasn't until the offseason when I started training, working out, I realized, 'Oh, maybe I wasn't where I thought I was.' You don't have time for that during the season, to wait to get there."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.