Closing on 400 homers, Ortiz is more than a slugger

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Closing on 400 homers, Ortiz is more than a slugger

SEATTLE -- As the Red Sox took on the Seattle Mariners Friday night at Safeco Field, David Ortiz was in the hunt for his 400th career homer, something only seven other active hitters had accomplished and 48 in the history of the game have managed to hit.

The pending feat has served to humble Ortiz, who freely admits to taking note of the members of the exclusive club, and moreover, of those who haven't gained admittance.

For instance, two recent Red Sox legends -- Hall of Famer Jim Rice and outfielder Dwight Evans -- fell short of the plateau.

Since 2003, among all lefthanded hitters, only Adam Dunn has hit more homers.

But there's a danger in focusing squarely on Ortiz's ability to hit the long ball. Such an approach obscures Ortiz's ability as a pure hitter.

He entered Friday's action with a lifetime average of .289, far higher than many swing-for-the-fences sluggers. His lifetime on-base percentage of .388 is evidence of his selectivity at the plate.

"David's one of the finest hitters I've ever been around,'' said Bobby Valentine. "He works real hard at his profession. He studies the opposition. He takes every at-bat very personally. He really enjoys the competition. He's having as good a year as anyone I've been around.''

Still, as Ortiz approaches his latest milestone, there's a general perception that he doesn't quite get the respect he deserves for being a pure hitter.

There's more to Ortiz than tape-measure shots and big blasts over the fence.

"That could very well be the case,'' said Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan. "I think the people who get exposed to him on a day-in, day-out basis know what type of hitter he is. He's a guy who still continues to hit for average and takes his walks. He's a force in the middle of the lineup, but he can hurt you in a lot of different ways. He hits doubles. I think it's appreciated by guys who see him a lot, but maybe people on the West Coast, or media who don't see him all the time, think of him as just a home run hitter.''

When Magadan joined the Red Sox coaching staff, he heard from then-manager Terry Francona and former bench coach Brad Mills about Ortiz's dedication to his craft.

The homers aren't the result of just brute strength and all those base hits (1,844 and counting) aren't by accident.

"All you have to do is look at the fact that he has great hands, great body control at the plate,'' said Magadan. "There's no reason why he shouldn't hit for a high average because the tools are there for him to do it, even at 36.''

Indeed, this year and last, Ortiz has enjoyed something of a late-career renaissance. After beginning both 2008 and 2009 with long slumps -- to the point where the Red Sox seriously contemplated his release -- Ortiz has been more consistent overall, and more specifically, more productive against lefties.

In 2008 and 2009, he combined to hit .254 while striking out an average of almost 140 times per season. Since the start of 2011, however, Ortiz has boosted his batting average by more than 50 points to .308 and dramatically cut down his strikeouts to about 80 per season.

"I think he's kind of reinvented himself,'' said Magadan. "He's changed his body. He eats the right things, he doesn't drink anymore. He takes care of himself. He wants to continue playing this game and he realizes that he's got to do the kind of things he needs to stay out there. He probably feels better than he ever has physically.''

But beyond being in better shape and being more healthy in his lifestyle choices, Magadan sees another reason for Ortiz's resurgence.

"Like a lot of people,'' said Magadan, "he enjoys proving people wrong. For the naysayers who thought he was done two or three years ago, or the ones who thought last year was a fluke, he enjoys proving people wrong.''

Those close to Ortiz insist he's partly fueled by the Red Sox' refusal to grant him a multi-year extension, and similarly motivated to show other American League teams who didn't bid on him last winter how wrong they were in their evaluation.

Magadan said the 2012 version of Ortiz is similar to the Ortiz of 2007. His slumps are shorter and his hot streaks seem to last longer.

"That's rare for older guys,'' Magadan notes. "Usually, the hot streaks get cut in half. Instead of being hot for two weeks, you're hot for five or six days. But the ability to lengthen out the good times and shorten up the bad ones and understand why he's swinging the bat good and what's causing him to square a lot of balls up and use the whole field, to swing at strikes -- he's done a great job with all of that.''

Meanwhile, the homers come almost as an afterthought -- the result of Ortiz's hard work, but by no means his only talent.

Drellich: Pomeranz lessens heat on Dombrowski's trade history

Drellich: Pomeranz lessens heat on Dombrowski's trade history

BOSTON — Drew Pomeranz is helping out Dave Dombrowski’s balance sheet in Boston.

The Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel trades have been awesome — beyond awesome, even. The Tyler Thornburg deal looks like a disaster that, maybe someday, Dombrowski will acknowledge rather than sidestep. The Carson Smith deal has produced, if nothing else, no gain. The Fernando Abad deal has not hurt the Sox, and he’s had some decent moments.

But the Pomeranz trade with the Padres, for just top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza, stood as the most controversial of Dealer Dave’s moves until the past couple months. Now, the Cult of Travis Shaw has slowly made folks forget about Espinoza and the complicated set of circumstances that surrounded that trade.

“Rescind” is something you’re hearing less and less. 

It’s remarkable what a 2.70 ERA in a 40-inning, seven-start stretch can do. Pomeranz is looking like a lot shinier these days, particularly after Tuesday night, when he came back out despite a rain delay of more than an hour in a 9-2 win over the Twins.

From the day that 40-inning stretch began, May 25, through Tuesday, only four qualified starters posted a better ERA in the American League: Corey Kluber (1.29), Jason Vargas (2.27), Jordan Montgomery (2.52) and Mike Pelfrey (2.64).

For comparison: Chris Sale is 10th in that stretch, at 3.54. Rick Porcello has 6.08 ERA in the same time.

Realistically, where the Sox stood last season, they needed Pomeranz. He was healthy enough to throw. That’s the reality everyone who wanted the deal undone always undersold: the back of the rotation was crumbling. 

But that was just one layer of the deal.

The Padres did not provide as much medical information as they should have, and the Sox stuck with Pomeranz despite the opportunity to look elsewhere.

Espinoza hasn’t pitched for a Padres minor league affiliate yet this season. He’s playing catch from flat ground as he comes back from a forearm injury, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported recently. 

Trades, to this observer, are typically best evaluated by reviewing the process behind them — which is to say, by looking back at the information was available at the time the deal was made. And at the time, it was known that the Sox were paying for Pomeranz beyond just last season's second half. They were paying for a controllable arm who could help out the rotation this year too.

Dombrowski may well have acquired Pomeranz at his peak value, which is unsurprising. But what mattered most was whether the team believed Pomeranz could contribute effectively beyond 2016. That, once they had all the health information, whether they properly evaluated what it would mean for his future.

It looked bad when Pomeranz started the season on the disabled list. He had a stem-cell injection in his forearm in the winter, too. There wasn’t much to hang your hat on at the start of April. 

Realistically, Pomeranz probably isn’t 100 percent right now. Even within the relative world of pro baseball — where no one is ever 100 percent — Pomeranz is probably further from it than most. 

But he's powered through. Pomeranz’s attitude might actually fit Boston better than most realize. He also is, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, a pitcher with a high ceiling in terms of ability (if not innings).

He also is, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, a pitcher with a high ceiling in terms of ability (if not innings).

How Pomeranz holds up is to be seen. But the team’s judgment that he would have value beyond last season, a value worth surrendering Espinoza for, is looking better and better.

Francona misses second game this month because of health issues

Francona misses second game this month because of health issues

CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona missed Tuesday night's game against Texas after his second trip to the hospital this month.

The Indians said doctors for now have ruled out major health issues and Francona will be monitored the next several weeks.

Francona, 58, left Monday night's game because he wasn't feeling well. He spent several hours at Cleveland Clinic and underwent a series of tests.

Francona was released from the hospital on Tuesday and spent the rest of the day at home. He was expected to return to the dugout Wednesday when the Indians host the Rangers. Cleveland lost to Texas 2-1 on Tuesday.

Bench coach Brad Mills ran the team in Francona's absence. Cleveland began the day in first place in the AL Central after rallying for a 15-9 win Monday.

"Tito actually wanted to come back to the ballpark today," team president Chris Antonetti said Tuesday. "I told him he can't come back to the ballpark today. He only got a couple hours of sleep last night, so despite his desire to want to be here, I thought it was best that he gets some rest tonight and just come back tomorrow. His plan when he was getting released from the hospital was to come over here."

"I don't think he was exceedingly happy with me," Antonetti said with a laugh. "That's OK."

Francona was hospitalized June 13 following a game at Progressive Field. He underwent tests and was released a few hours later, returning to work the following night. Last August, he missed a game after experiencing chest pains but was back the next day.

"Thankfully, we've got some great doctors that are coordinating his care," Antonetti said. "They've done every test they can possibly imagine. They've all come back clean. They're now working to try to figure out what are some of those things that are causing him to not feel so well."

Francona, a close friend of Mills for several years, has retained his sense of humor through his health issues.

A statement released by the team Tuesday read, "Mr. Francona also wanted to express that medical personnel have not yet ruled out an allergy to Bench Coach Brad Mills."