Ortiz pacing himself during spring training

Ortiz pacing himself during spring training
March 3, 2014, 5:00 pm
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- On the one hand, he's as good ever: one of just three players to hit .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBI last season; MVP of the World Series; a champion for a third time.
     
On the other hand, there is the harsh reality that he is 38, less than two years removed from a potentially career-ending injury.
     
There's the legend, and then there's reality. And David Ortiz must adjust.
     
His post-season heroics from October aside, he's not a kid anymore. He's much closer to the end of his career than even its mid-point. He would like to play another season beyond this one, but beyond that, he makes no promises.
     
Several years ago, Ortiz decided that he needed more spring training at-bats to get ready for the start of the regular season. After cutting back on playing time, he began 2009 and 2010 miserably and determined he wasn't properly prepared.
     
Then, last year, he didn't get a single plate appearance in Grapefruit League play, went on a brief rehab assignment in the minors and rolled into the Red Sox lineup as though he were in the midst of a mid-season hot streak: In his first five games, he bashed out 13 hits and he had at least one hit in every one of his first 15 games.
     
Go figure.
     
"Every year is different for me," shrugged Ortiz recently. "Last year, I didn't play in spring training, but I got stronger doing all kinds of stuff with the trainers here and that probably helped me out for the season."
     
Now, Ortiz is taking a different approach. Having found that perhaps he doesn't need as many at-bats as he did even a few years ago, he's pacing himself, trying to strike the proper balance between enough preparation and early season overwork.
     
"Spring training is kind of long sometimes," he said. "But we have to do what we have to do. At some point, it kind of wears you out. It's good to catch a break. It feels to me like I'm doing something new now because I didn't do anything at all in spring training last year."
     
Opening Day is four weeks from Monday and everything is channeled through that date. How much is enough? How much is overkill? The key is communication. Like Terry Francona, John Farrell allows his more senior players to determine what they need to get ready.
     
"It all depends on how I feel," said Ortiz. "If I'm feeling good and feeling like I'm getting enough, I'm cool with that. If I feel like I need some more, I go and ask him. I know. I know what I need."
     
At 38, Ortiz is constantly adapting and it's not just what he does on the field. His mental approach is critical to his preparation, too.
     
"Right now, I use my mind more than anything to play the game," said Ortiz. "There are too many things sometimes that block me from focusing on the things that I really need to do. Through the years, I've learned how to deal with that, how to do things better.
     
"Physically, I feel better and when you feel better physically, your mind's going to pop. I know what I need to do to be good to go for Opening Day and last year was kind of one of those years where I had no choice -- I couldn't play (because of the heel). What am I going to do - not play until June because I need more spring training at-bats? My mind kicked in and  I was physically prepared once I started playing. I wasn't 100 percent, but I was good to go."
     
When the season gets underway, Ortiz has to make concessions to his body. But a more consistent plan at the plate can help counter-balance the aging process.
   
"When I was in my 20s," he recalled, "I was anxious. I wanted to get three hits in one at-bat. I wanted to overdo things, but I had the ability to hit and I could get away with (stuff). Now, I can't get away with (stuff) because I'm not in my 20s anymore. I'm a little more conservative. When I work on my swing, I don't waste any (energy). I guess that's why I've been more consistent.
     
"You've got to go to the plate with a mindset. To be honest with you, maybe because I'm getting older, I'm more patient than I used to be. When I go with a plan, I stick with the plan. One pitch would have changed my mind five, six, seven years ago. One pitch doesn't change my mind anymore. I stick with my plan and it's been working. To be this kind of hitter, you have to do a lot of (stuff). The season can wear you out, but you have to stay on it."
     
If there's one thing Ortiz has learned in his 17 seasons, it's that there are no shortcuts to success.
     
"I need everything," he said. "When it comes down to my swing, I haven't changed (the work). I take the same amount of swings, BP, soft toss, in the cage -- everything. It wears me out. But I know that's the only way you can stay consistent. This game is all about repetition and the only way you can stay consistent is repeating what you need to do.