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Big Papi may really be Big Baby.
Gordon Edes, Globe Staff wrote:With Mike Lowell on the disabled list, it's understandable that Terry Francona would not be giving David Ortiz a day off any time soon.
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But with Ortiz last among American League qualifiers with an .070 average, might Francona see merit in giving the Sox designated hitter a mental health day?
"If I ever felt that way, I'd do it, regardless [of whether Lowell was available]," Francona said before yesterday's 4-3 victory over the Yankees. "I don't feel that way right now. If I did, I'd do it. He's still a pretty good presence."
But after Ortiz went hitless in four at-bats yesterday, extending the worst slump of his career to 3 for 43, 0 for his last 17, Francona acknowledged it may be time to reconsider.
"That's actually a possibility," he said. "We'll see. A day where maybe he can do some physical things but keep his mind free, that's a possibility."
Ortiz has not hit a fair ball hard since flying out to the right-field warning track in the second inning of Tuesday's home opener. In 16 at-bats since, he has hit a ball in the air to the outfield three times, flying out twice to the opposite field. He has grounded into four double plays, including a check-swing comebacker to the mound yesterday, and has struck out five times (including one strike-'im-out, throw-'im-out double play).
"He's hitting [in the cage], he's working hard, maybe hitting too much," Francona said. "He understands a lot of guys look to him. He's going through a tough time at the plate. When we get two-hit [against Chien-Ming Wang Friday night], he feels it. If David goes through the whole year hitting under .100, we're going to lose some games. David's built up a lot of trust, especially from me, and hopefully somebody is going to pay [for the slump]."
Amalie Benjamin, Globe Staff wrote:Manager Terry Francona talked, in his session with the media, about the decision to sit David Ortiz today, even against the Yankees.
"I just think it's the right thing to do," Francona said. "I don't know if you guys were in the room when he came in, but he came in kind of with a little bounce to his step, a little more light-hearted than he's been.
"He needed a break, that's the best way to put it. I think he woke up this morning knowing he wasn't going to play and he can go get his work done. It's never a lot of fun to not have his presence in the lineup, but I think it's the best thing to do."
Ortiz also talked, in the clubhouse: “This game is very mental. Your mind takes over. I can tell you myself, I know that in my situation, my mind works more than everything else because it’s been like that my whole career. I think, mentally, the percentage is more of what you use in the game than physically. I will tell you, and it’s because this game, after you get prepared physically, you let the mind take over. Sometimes when you’re fighting, fighting, fighting, fighting, this is the time when the mind gets some time off and regroups and goes back to normal. If you just keep on hitting and keep on hitting and keep on hitting, it takes longer for you to recover or whatever. I guess that’s why managers make those kind of decisions with their players. You can see the results later on.”
When asked if his legs were bothering him, Ortiz said, "Yeah. I’m fine. I’m not like I would like to be but I’m OK. I’m just going to really appreciate Manny and Mikey Lowell start hitting homers, that way I don’t have to score from first base. That ... hurts. No, everything is fine. I’ve just got to regroup and pull myself together and stop thinking so much and fighting with myself. I’ve been there before, that’s why I know I’m going to be out of it at one point. It happens to all of us, man.”
Bob Ryan, Globe Columnist wrote:On the 13th day, Papi rested.
The Big Fella has gone as low as he can go. Statistically speaking, David Ortiz is the least productive batter in all of major league baseball, at least among those who actually have a pulse, or who don't play for the Tigers.
No, seriously, folks. Papi is looking up at everyone. He is hitting worse than all those slick-fielding shortstops who ought to be hitting 10th. He is hitting worse than all those anonymous backup catchers, the ones who get an extra-base hit every third week or so and who get around the bases as if carrying the entire Kentucky Derby field on their backs.
He's hitting .070. He's slugging .140. He's a complete and utter mess.
So it's not as if Terry Francona had much of a choice. Yankee game or no Yankee game, the skipper did not write the name of Ortiz into his lineup last night.
"I said yesterday I hoped David would get started today, and it didn't happen," Francona said long before the Sox finished off their 8-5 defeat of the Yankees.
"It happens," Ortiz said with a shrug. "It happened to me before," alluding to a situation back in 2003, before he became a megastar.
Rather than prepare himself to face young Phil Hughes, Papi went to work with batting coach Dave Magadan. Somehow or other, the two must find a solution.
"You know, just trying to figure things out for a minute so I can go back to being Big Papi," Ortiz said.
Lately, Ortiz has been painful to watch. This isn't one of those cases where he's been hitting the ball hard but unable to find a hole. He's not himself. He's just not having good at-bats. He has rendered useless the concept of a "hitter's count." He either takes pitches he used to crush or he makes poor contact. And it goes without saying that he is not exactly in synch with the umpires over what is and isn't a strike.
After his Saturday 0-fer made him 0 for 17 and 1 for 29, Francona made up his mind. Papi was going to get a day off.
"When I came back up here after the game last night, I touched bases with David real quick, and I mean real quick," Francona explained. "I just think it's the right thing to do."
Francona never would spring something as monumental as taking Ortiz out of the lineup for the 13th game of the season without telling him in advance. John McGraw might have done that to George Kelly, or the notoriously impersonal Casey Stengel might have done that to Mickey Mantle, but that's not the way modern managers go about their business. In the 21st century, there's a right way and a wrong way to treat people.
"If I didn't tell him, he might go home and be thinking," Francona said. About what, we can only imagine. "It's done to help him," the manager continued. "He can take a deep breath, work on some things with Mags, and not have the responsibility of the first at-bat."
"You see this in baseball," Ortiz pointed out. "A guy having a hard time, go home, chill out, come back with a fresh mind. It happens to everybody. And I guess that's when managers know when they need to bring something like that to the table. I always do what Terry tells me to do. I'm an employee."
Maybe so, but there are Red Sox employees and there are Red Sox employees, if you know what I mean. Big Papi is fairly high up on the food chain. The welfare of those routine employees will depend, in large measure, on how soon, and how well, Papi solves his current puzzle.
Oh, yes. The $64,000 Question. Can Papi's plate woes be in any way traced to his surgically repaired right knee? Inquiring minds want to know.
"I don't think that's part of it," Francona said.
Just about every batter who ever has played major league baseball has had trouble picking up the ball as it leaves the hand of some pitcher. That's just the way it is. But Ortiz is suffering through an unprecedented personal experience in which he doesn't seem to be seeing the ball well from anybody, whether the opposing pitcher is tall, short, skinny, fat, coming from over the top or sidearm, whether he's domestic or international, whether he's a Democrat or Republican, whether he's a carnivore or a vegan, or whether he throws righthanded or lefthanded.
To say that all this leads to an uncharacteristic indecisiveness at the plate is to say that Hank Steinbrenner will not be addressing the next meeting of the Bosox Club.
"Obviously, you need good mechanics to hit, and you can't have good mechanics if you don't see the ball well out of the hand," said Francona.
So how can a batting instructor help someone see the ball better? Hey, isn't that why he's a batting instructor, and the rest of us just sit and watch?
The truth is these things can happen to anybody. Remember just how futile A-Rod was in the beginning of the '04 season? It was 1 for 17, by the way. Manny Ramírez has gone into a few funks in his day.
But this thing Big Papi's in is pretty extreme.
What everyone knows is that it will end. Ortiz has not forgotten how to hit. It all will click in again. At least, that's the way Francona sees it. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and Big Papi's gotta have an OPS over 1.000.
"Good hitters get to their level," Francona said. "Watching David get to his level is going to be fun."
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Amalie Benjamin, Globe Staff wrote:Though Terry Francona had hinted last night that there was a chance David Ortiz would sit for a second straight game, he's back in tonight's lineup, batting his customary third. He seemed to be in a good mood this afternoon, despite temperatures that would put anyone in a funk. It's supposed to be in the 30s tonight at gametime, and the Plain Dealer here in Cleveland featured fans so bundled up only their eyes showed in a photo from last night's game. It didn't look very fun.
Francona talked to Ortiz last night on the plane, and told him to call in the morning. The manager said that he would be OK with Ortiz missing a second game, but wanted to see how Ortiz felt in the morning.
So Francona received a text this morning, but thought it was from his daughter.
Not quite. He texted back asking which number she was texting from.
The response? "It's mine, [expletive]."
"Now I'm getting [mad]," Francona said, laughing. "So I call and it's David. I was all mixed up. Cause the last one said, 'Put me in, [expletive],' and I can't figure it out. I was actually kind of relieved. [Heck], if David gets hits or not, at least I don't have a 14-year-old talking like that to her Dad. Anyway, the good news is my daughter seems to be not speaking like that and David wants to play. So we're OK."
Amalie Benjamin, Globe Staff wrote:That single snapped an 0-for-17 streak for David Ortiz.
Perhaps the mental health day that Terry Francona gave Ortiz yesterday helped. Ortiz had previously been 0-for-7 lifetime against Jake Westbrook.
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