NEW YORK — Jacoby Ellsbury is a big reason the Boston Red Sox are closing in on a playoff trip. Now, they can only hope he’ll be back in time to join them.
The center fielder has a broken right foot, leaving the AL East leaders without a key offensive catalyst as they try to wrap up the division title.
Red Sox manager John Farrell said the team believes Ellsbury will be back this year, and hopes it will be during the regular season. But there is no specific timetable for his return, and the speedy leadoff hitter will keep wearing a protective boot on his injured foot for five days.
“After that, we’ll see how he responds to treatment and how he’s feeling,” Farrell said after Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the New York Yankees.
Ellsbury had an MRI on Saturday and returned to Boston for further examination. Then he went to Colorado to get a second opinion from foot specialist Dr. Thomas Clanton at The Steadman Clinic.
Farrell said tests confirmed the diagnosis of a compression fracture, which means it’s non-displaced. Ellsbury leads the majors with 52 stolen bases in 56 attempts. He has scored a team-high 89 runs and is batting .299 with eight homers and 52 RBIs.
“Obviously, it’s big. He’s a big part of this team,” pitcher Jon Lester said. “Hopefully, he’s a quick healer and he’ll be back soon for us.”
There was some good news for Boston, which began the day with the best record in the majors and an 8½-game lead in the AL East: Clay Buchholz is ready to rejoin the rotation after missing three months with a strained neck.
The right-hander said he threw about 30 pitches in a routine bullpen session at Yankee Stadium, his final hurdle before starting Tuesday night at Tampa Bay. Struggling left-hander Felix Doubront will be skipped this time through the rotation.
“Just to give him some recovery time, a little added rest, just as we’ve done with a couple of other guys,” Farrell said.
Buchholz will be followed by Ryan Dempster and Jake Peavy against the second-place Rays. Farrell said he probably would prefer not to use Doubront out of the bullpen right now.
“I think for this time through we’ll stay away from him for now just to give him, we feel, the rest needed,” Farrell said.
Buchholz opened 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 12 starts this season and was selected to the All-Star team.
He hasn’t pitched in the majors since beating the Los Angeles Angels on June 8.
He made three rehab starts in the minors, the final one on Thursday in a playoff game for Triple-A Pawtucket. Farrell said Buchholz should be able to throw 75-80 pitches Tuesday.
“We’re hopeful we get a guy that’s close to what he was prior to the injury, and it would be an additional lift to this rotation,” Farrell said.
Buchholz said he wants to get in peak form in time for a potential trip to the postseason.
“I want to make sure that I’m ready for that,” he said, adding that his body should feel fresher than most other pitchers because of all the time off.
Buchholz acknowledged there was a point this summer when he doubted whether he would make it back this season.
“Mentally, I’m ready. I think that’s what everybody was questioning — mental toughness. But I know my body better than anybody else,” he said.
Ellsbury fouled a pitch off his foot Aug. 28 against Baltimore and aggravated the injury when he stole second base in the 10th inning Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. He scored the decisive run, but hasn’t played since.
Rookie center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. was recalled Saturday from Pawtucket and has started the past two games. This is his fourth stint with the Red Sox this year, and he’s batting .172 with two homers and seven RBIs.
“I definitely want to be able help out any way I can, and I’ll be ready whenever they want to play me,” Bradley said.
Ichiro Suzuki scored on wild pitch by Brandon Workman (5-3) with two outs in the ninth Sunday, ending Boston’s five-game winning streak.
Moments earlier, Mariano Rivera (5-2) gave up a wind-aided homer to streaking Will Middlebrooks that tied the score at 3. With the desperate Yankees depleted in the bullpen, Rivera was summoned to start the eighth inning for the first time since June 20, 2006.
Robinson Cano hit a two-run double and the Yankees, fighting for a wild-card spot, finally quieted Boston’s booming bats behind starter Hiroki Kuroda.
The Red Sox simply outslugged New York in the first three games of the series, giving them a whopping 54 runs, 17 homers and 64 hits during a four-game span that ended Saturday.
“Somewhat of an odd ending to an otherwise very good series on our end,” Farrell said.
NOTES: Boston’s last four-game sweep of the Yankees came at Fenway Park in June 1990. The only time the Red Sox have swept a series of at least four games in the Bronx was a five-game whitewash in July 1939. … After tormenting the Yankees throughout the first three games, 1B Mike Napoli and OF Shane Victorino were both given a scheduled rest to give them two days off in a row, including the team’s off day Monday. Napoli pinch-hit for Bradley in the ninth and struck out against Rivera. … 2B Dustin Pedroia became the 29th player to appear in 1,000 games with the Red Sox. … Boston recalled RHP Allen Webster from Triple-A Pawtucket to add a fresh arm in the bullpen.