FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For most of 2012, David Ortiz was one of Bobby Valentine's biggest backers on the Red Sox. When others criticized the manager -- publicly or privately -- Ortiz remained loyal to Valentine.
But when Valentine charged in an NBC Sports Channel interview last winter that Ortiz quit on the slumping Red Sox rather than return from injury, Ortiz felt hurt and ambushed.
And Tuesday, meeting with reporters for the first time this spring, Ortiz took off the gloves, without mentioning Valentine by name.
"A lot of players had a lot of issues with our manager last year," said Ortiz. "We have a new manager, a guy that's familiar with the organization, a guy that we've pretty much grown up around. An organization, a team, is like the human body. If the head is right, the body is going to function right. But if the head is messed up, then the body is going to be all over the place.
"It seems like that was part of our situation last year. Guys weren't comfortable with the manager we had. Guys were struggling. Even situations that, as a player, you need to handle better, sometimes you get confused when you get caught in a situation where you don't know how you're going to react to things. And I think the first move that our organization did was try to fix that.
"I'm pretty sure that everyone is looking at that as a positive move. And now it's a like a fresh start. We're going back to basics with a manager like John. To be honest with you, last year in spring training, when we were doing workouts, I started seeing things that I'd never seen in baseball, for as long as I've been playing baseball. And I don't have two days in baseball. I've been playing baseball a long time and I had question marks about those things that I saw last year. Those question marks went into the season and you guys saw the disaster that happened with us last year.
"Now, you're going back to seeing the things that you're used to. Baseball is a game that is a little complicated. So when you start to add things to that, me personally, I think it just gets worse. Hopefully that's not the case now."
Asked to specify some of the things in spring training that concerned him, Ortiz cited Valentine's insistence that infielders go deep into the outfield to receive cutoff throws.
"I saw guys hitting the cutoff man being 20 feet away from the infielder," said Ortiz. "So you're going to tell me as an outfielder you can't throw the ball to home plate when you're 20 feet from the infielder? That's a different baseball game than the one that I grew up watching and playing.
"Little things like that happen. Everyone has their reasons. How many times have you seen that in baseball? So those are things that you see. The following year you try to fix it and try to go back to the basics."
The managerial change is just one part of the Red Sox makeover following the disastrous 2013 season. There are seven free agents and another acquired in a trade.
Those changes may help win back a fan base that was disillusioned by the play on the field -- and the issues off the field.
"To be honest with you," said Oritz in reference to last season, "I ran out of patience last year. And I'm a player. So I can imagine where the fans were at . . . We definitely need to come back and play way better than we did last year.
"When you have a year like we had last year, there's no hope. You finish last in your division. So when a team like this one finishes last in your division, there's a lot of things we've got to fix.
Thanks to a strained Achilles, Ortiz played just five games after the All-Star break and just one after July 16. But after rest and rehab over the winter, he believes he'll be in the Opening Day lineup.
"I think it's going to happen,'' Ortiz said. "A couple of weeks ago, I started doing drills and it went good. I'm not 100 percent yet but I was pain-free doing it, which is a good sign. Now, the trainers are moving forward with things slowly and tomorrow, we're going to continue doing the drills.
"But the good thing is I was hitting and it didn't bother me at all hitting. Running and doing some agility drills, at the beginning, I was a little concerned. But later on, I was going after it pretty normal. I didn't have any setbacks. I was surprised myself."
Ortiz said he's received assurances from medical personnel that he won't be at greater risk for further injuries to the Achilles.
"I'm not concerned about it,'' he said. "We did a whole bunch of stuff with the Achilles and when we went back and took an MRI, my Achillies looked pretty normal. Before that, there was a tiny tear there and I was worried about my Achilles snapping, but that's not the case any more. It wasn't my concern once I started doing things. I'm not worried about my Achilles anymore.''
"Everything that they've told me (in terms of progress) has been happening sooner than what they expected, which is a good thing. We're just moving forward. They just don't want to rush it."
In retrospect, Ortiz now sees that he rushed back in the final week of August. After smacking an RBI double, he re-injured the heel and was done for the season.
"I wasn't ready,'' he said. "I thought I was. I was doing some running and stuff. I knew that I wasn't 100 percent, but I thought I was going to survive for the rest of the season and things got worse. I was in a lot of pain and I actually put my career to the side to try to come back and help this ballclub that was struggling badly. The doctor told me I could have snapped my Achilles."
Ortiz was enjoying a standout season when he first injured his heel, with an OPS 1.024. Now 38, in the wake of the scandal surrounding the south Florida aging clinic and PEDs, he was asked whether he expects people to doubt the authenticity of his performance.
"When I first heard about (players being linked to the clinic)," he said. "I started saying that us, as baseball players, we pretty much might be the dumbest athletes of all the sports because there's a history of players doing things like that and later on getting caught. We're talking about six or seven years. So how come in 2011 or 2012, there are players still being caught in the same situation?
"All I can tell you is that I just keep on working hard and I just keep on trying my best. I'm not going to be doing this for the rest of my life. But I think when you work hard, things pay off. I don't care if people keep on doubting the things you do. But as long as your name is not mentioned in a situation like that, I think it's OK.
Over the winter, the Sox signed Ortiz to a two-year, 26 million deal, giving him some security after a series of one-year deals.
"I don't think about that,'' he insisted. "I look at baseball the same way I looked at it the first day I got here. Security is not my problem. My problem is I have to deal with questions at the end of the season and during the off-season, and I think a guy like myself, if I'm part of the heart-and-soul of the lineup, I don't think it was fair to me to be dealing with that kind of stuff for years.
"I do what I have to do. I don't take things for granted. I got what I got because I earned it. If you have a bad year and you don't do what you're supposed to do, you're not getting that. Players that get that are doing what they're supposed to."