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.

Jones-Molina WBC spat is a clash of cultures . . . and that's great

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Jones-Molina WBC spat is a clash of cultures . . . and that's great

The Adam Jones-Yadier Molina verbal skirmish is as predictable as it is annoying.

Was every cultural nuance for the 16 World Baseball Classic teams explained in a booklet the players had to memorize before the tournament?

No? Then it’s amazing there weren’t more moments like this.

Jones, the Orioles outfielder, said Team USA's championship game win over Puerto Rico was motivated by Puerto Rico's choice to plan a post-tournament parade for the team before the final game.

As Jones was raised, parades in pro sports are for championship teams. Red Sox fans are likely aware of this.

As Jones was raised, discussing a parade before a title is secured suggests overconfidence. Rex Ryan fans are likely aware of this.

After an 8-0 win for the U.S., Jones revealed the parade was used as bulletin-board material.

"Before the game, we got a note that there was some championship shirts made -- we didn't make 'em -- and a flight [arranged],” Jones said. “That didn't sit well with us. And a parade -- it didn't sit well with us."

But apparently, Jones didn't know the full context of the parade. It was reportedly planned regardless of whether Puerto Rico won.

One Team USA teammate of Jones whom CSNNE spoke with didn't believe that, however.

"It was called a champions parade that got turned into a celebration parade once they lost," the player said. "I think they just don't like getting called out by Jones, but all Jones did was tell exactly what happened."

Jones’ comments weren’t received well.

Puerto Rico's going through a trying time, a recession, and the entire island rallied behind the team.

“Adam Jones . . . is talking about things he doesn't know about," Molina told ESPN’s Marly Rivera. "He really has to get informed because he shouldn't have said those comments, let alone in public and mocking the way [preparations] were made.”

No one should be upset Jones explained what he was thinking.

Jones actually asked MLB Network host Greg Amsinger, “Should I tell the truth?”

Yes. It’s better than lying.

Look at the reactions across the WBC: the bat flips, the raw emotion. Honesty conveyed via body language.

People in the U.S. are starting to accept and crave those reactions. The WBC helped promote a basic idea: let people be themselves.

Jones said what was on his mind. We can’t celebrate bat flips and then say Jones should keep his mouth shut.

But there's an unreasonable expectation being placed on Jones here.

He heard about a parade -- which is to say, a subject he wouldn't normally think twice about or investigate before a championship baseball game.

Plus, it gave him motivation.

Why is Jones, or anyone with Team USA, more responsible for gaining an advance understanding of Puerto Rico’s parade-planning conventions -- we're talking about parade planning! -- than Puerto Rico is responsible for keeping U.S. norms in mind when making and/or talking about those plans?

No one involved here was thinking about the other’s perception or expectation. It's impossible to always do so.

But that’s how these moments develop: what’s obvious to one party is outlandish to the other.

Now Molina, Puerto Rico's catcher, wants an apology.

"He has to apologize to the Puerto Rican people," Molina told ESPN. "Obviously, you wanted to win; he didn't know what this means to [our] people."

Jones can clear the air with an apology, but he doesn't owe one. And he definitely doesn't owe one after Molina took it a step further.

"I'm sending a message to [Jones], saying, 'Look at this, right now you're in spring training working out, and we're with our people, with our silver medals,' " Molina said. "You're in spring training and you're working . . . you have no idea how to celebrate your honors, you don't know what it means.”

Team USA had no parade. Manager Jim Leyland made clear how the U.S. was celebrating, by recognizing those serving the country.

The silver lining here is how much attention the WBC has drawn, and how much conversation it can drive. People care, a great sign for the sport -- and its potential to foster better understanding across cultures.

Internationally, the sport is on parade.

Wright extends scoreless streak to 9 1/3 innings in Red Sox' 10-7 win over Pirates

Wright extends scoreless streak to 9 1/3 innings in Red Sox' 10-7 win over Pirates

The angst surrounding the David Price- and (possibly) Drew Pomeranz-less Red Sox starting rotation may have eased a little -- or a lot -- on Thursday.

Steven Wright extended his string of scoreless spring-training innings to 9 1/3 by blanking the Pirates for 4 1/3 innings in his third spring-traing start, leading the Sox to a 10-7 victory over the Pirates at SkyBlue Park.

Red Sox-Pirates box score

Wright allowed two hits -- the only two hits he's allowed this spring -- with one walk and three strikeouts.

Several of his pitching brethren, notably Heath Hembree and Robbie Ross Jr., didn't fare nearly as well. (See box score above.) But the Sox -- using what may be their regular-season batting order for the first time -- bailed them out with a 16-hit attack, led by Dustin Pedroia (3-for-3, now hitting ,500 for the spring). Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, Jackie Bradley Jr., and, yes, Pablo Sandoval each added two hits. Sandoval also drove in three runs and is now hitting .362.

Xander Bogaerts went 1-for-4 in his return to the Sox from the World Baseball Classic.