By James Wagner • New York Times News Service

TAMPA, Fla. —

New York Yankees spring training was more than a month old when outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury arrived here with little fanfare Sunday. His locker had remained mostly undisturbed until this past weekend, packages stacking up. An occupant is finally here, but how long he will stay remains unclear.

Ellsbury, 35, is among the highest-paid players on the team, but little is expected of him. The Madras High graduate and former Oregon State star missed the 2018 season because of a left hip injury that eventually required surgery in August.

He was originally expected to be ready for the start of spring training, but plantar fasciitis in his right foot, an ailment he has dealt with for years, flared up while he was returning from hip surgery. Instead of bringing him here to Tampa at the beginning of spring training, the Yankees let Ellsbury remain in Arizona to continue working on his hip with a physical therapist — and even dispatched their assistant athletic trainer Michael Schuk to visit him.

Once Ellsbury was able to resume running and baseball activities, he joined the Yankees in Tampa. On Monday, he said he could not offer a timetable for his return because he was still building his body back up.

“Coming off the hip surgery, it’s almost like I have a new leg,” he said. “It’s just getting used to it and getting it stronger and getting my explosiveness back. That’ll take a little bit of time, but moving in the right direction.”

Since joining the Yankees before the 2014 season on a seven-year, $153 million contract that may go down as one of the worst in team history, Ellsbury’s tenure has been defined by injuries and disappointment.

From 2014 to 2017, Ellsbury averaged 130 games a season, hitting .264 with a .716 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage in addition to his combined total of 39 home runs and 102 stolen bases. After that underwhelming production and last year’s absence, Ellsbury still has two years and $42 million on his contract.

“You want to contribute,” Ellsbury said. “You want to be part of the team. And the best way for me to do that is to put the work in the gym, the training room and the batting cage. If I do that, I’ll get back on the field.”

Earlier this spring, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman defended Ellsbury, his injuries and questions about his future.

“I believe when he’s healthy he’ll be back and he’ll be able to show us what he is capable of doing,” Cashman said. “I’ve been told by doctors that if that’s the case we’ll be able to see the player we used to see.”

That player enjoyed some stellar seasons with his initial big league club, the Boston Red Sox. He led the American League in stolen bases three times, including a career-best 70 steals in 2009. Two years later, he hit .321 with career-high totals of 32 home runs and 105 RBIs, making the AL All-Star team and finishing runner-up in the AL MVP vote.

Had Ellsbury returned as once hoped, he could have been useful in the Yankees’ opening series against the Baltimore Orioles, which center fielder Aaron Hicks will miss after receiving a second cortisone shot for his back on Sunday. Like Ellsbury, Hicks will begin the season on the injured list, but the latter could return by the second week of the season.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Hicks could physically be ready by opening day but would need time to play in practice games since he has missed nearly three weeks of spring training.

During Hicks’ absence, the Yankees will use Brett Gardner in center field with Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge on either side, and Tyler Wade or Clint Frazier as the fourth outfielder.

22793712