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Crisp ready to compete for starting job

Crisp ready to compete for starting job

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Leaving no doubt about his intention this Spring Training, a bigger, stronger Coco Crisp reported to Red Sox camp on Wednesday morning prepared to fight for the starting center-field job.

"I want to play ever yday," Crisp said. "I think everybody wants to play every day, and if you don't, I think there's something wrong with you. I don't want to sit on the bench. I could cheerlead with the best of them, but that's not where I want to be."

Then asked his preference if he doesn't come out on top in the battle with Jacoby Ellsbury, Crisp was direct and to the point.

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"I would honestly rather be somewhere else and play than be on the bench," he added. "But I'll take whatever comes and deal with it."

As was the case with Ellsbury, Crisp was included in initial trade rumors over the winter with the Minnesota Twins for Johan Santana.

"We're just going to have to see how that plays out," he said of his pending competition with Ellsbury. "I know there's been some trade talk here and there, too. I just kind of sit back and I'm a person who sees how it plays out."

For the first time since the World Series, Crisp spoke in depth about his feelings watching Ellsbury take his place as the starting center fielder, beginning with Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against the Indians and coming in as a late-inning defensive replacement the rest of the postseason.

"He was hot and I was struggling at that time, and you want to win a World Series, so you have to put who's hot and who's doing the best out there, offensively," Crisp said. "I understood it and that's why I really didn't say anything.

"It was really tough, because you helped the team get there. For myself, I battled through little nicks here and there, and the season didn't go exactly how you wanted, offensively. Defensively, yes, better than I expected for myself, but to sit down and watch the team go out there when you helped them win some games and get them there, it's tough. But you've got to kind of suck it up, which I was able to do. I don't know if I was able to hide it well -- I think I did. That was probably the toughest part of last year."

Injuries have marked Crisp's time in Boston. He broke his index finger on his very first weekend with the Red Sox in Baltimore in April 2006. Then, last season, his offense suffered when he injured his left thumb diving to make a catch.

Instead of paying attention to trade rumors, Crisp paid attention to detail and becoming stronger, reporting on Wednesday at a self-disclosed 187 pounds, approximately 14 pounds heavier than normal.

"The only thing I'm able to control is my offseason workout, and this season I was able to work out," Crisp said.

Crisp, after a career-best .300 season in 2005, has batted just .264 and .268 in his first two seasons in Boston, with a total of 14 home runs in those two campaigns.

"People think my offense is terrible," Crisp said. "Well, now it's time for me to prove that it isn't. I went through a couple of bruised-up years.

"I think every Spring Training is a fresh start. You've got new stats. I haven't hit out there or anything yet to judge how my offseason workout has gone against the professional guys," he added.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona was not playing favorites Wednesday when asked how he plans to handle the Crisp/Ellsbury competition this spring.

"We have two good center fielders," Francona said. "Our intent is to win, and we'll handle it.

"We have two pretty good players. It'll play itself out. I don't think I've looked at anybody's batting average since I've been here at Spring Training, because that's not what this is about. Whoever starts Opening Day, they're going to play. They're too good not to play. They're too valuable."

Last season, Francona's biggest challenge in handling the outfield was to find playing time for Wily Mo Pena, who came to camp as the club's fourth outfielder.

"We talked about Wily Mo last year and how you're going to get him at bats, and I couldn't figure out how to do that," Francona said. "This will be different, because of their speed, their defensive ability. It will be a lot easier."

David Ortiz watched in admiration last season as both players made big contributions in center, giving the nod, for the time being, to the veteran.

"Everybody knows Coco can play, no doubt about it," Ortiz said. "Right now, I'm pretty sure Coco is our center fielder. [The coaches] are the ones to make the decision. I'm just a player, just an employee. I know that Tito is going to do what's best for the team. Ellsbury is a very talented player and everyone would love to have him on their team. What we need right now is for Jacoby to learn everything he needs about the game. I think he's in the right position, on the right team, to do what you need as a young age to become what everyone expects from him."

Crisp is entering the second year of a three-year, $15.5 million contract, with an $8 million option for 2010. And Crisp hasn't given up on making it though the life of his current deal with the Red Sox.

"I think, speaking for anybody, you want to play, so whatever the best situation is for yourself to play, is where you want to be," he said. "I know in some of my earlier press conferences, I stated Boston. This has been one of my favorite teams growing up, and it still is. Boston and the Dodgers definitely were on my list, and then when [a trade to the Red Sox] happened, it was Boston. I had the chance to play here and I'm still here, as of right now."

Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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