Notes: Ortiz returns, makes immediate impact

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Notes: Ortiz returns, makes immediate impact

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam

ARLINGTON, Texas -- David Ortiz, after missing a week with heel bursitis, returned to the Red Sox lineup Wednesday night and didn't take long to make his impact felt.

Ortiz singled to right in the top of the first, driving in Adrian Gonzalez. He then scored all the way from first on a double by Carl Crawford, immediately putting his heel to the test.

"Everything went good," said Ortiz. "It didn't bother me at all. I was a little (hesitant). When I was running to the plate, I told myself to let it go and see how it felt. It felt fine."

"When you're in there, you're in there," cracked Francona of the first inning tour around the bases. "He was ready to go. That was a good test."

Ortiz later added a double to lead off the fifth inning and after moving to third on a sacrifice bunt, scored on a sacrifice fly.

Apart from running the bases well, Ortiz didn't look like he had missed any time at the plate, even though this was his first game back in the lineup since Aug. 14.

"It was one of those days when you come back and you haven't played in a while," said Ortiz. "I kept getting work in so I could stay as close to I where I wanted to be."

He did something with it, too. He didn't go out there and start getting lazy with the strike zone. He pumped strikes, used all his pitches and kept them off the scoreboard.

Before Wednesday night, Josh Beckett had been the recipient of some of the worst run support among American League starters, with hitters backing him with an average of 3.73 runs per game, a figure that translated to 10th worst in the league.

It was a nice change, then, when the Red Sox exploded for four runs in the top of the first, then added solo runs in the second and fourth to spot Beckett a 6-0 lead.

The 11 runs the Sox scored with Beckett in the game was the most he had to work with since May 18, 2008 against Milwaukee.

"He did something with it, too," said Francona. "He didn't go out there and start getting lazy with the strike zone. He pumped strikes, used all his pitches and kept them off the scoreboard."

"The guys had a pretty good approach against (Texas starter Matt Harrison)," said Beckett. "It was nice."

Beckett battled the elements in the bottom of the first, walking two hitters in part because strong gusts of winds were whipping through the ballpark, making it impossible for him to control his pitches.

"It was not only messing with my body," said Beckett, "but also, my ball was moving all over the place. It was just kind of hard to hone that it."

Carl Crawford tied a career high with five RBIs, accomplished twice before. Crawford doubled home two in the first, hit a sacrifice fly in the fifth and added a two-run line drive homer to right-center in the seventh.

Francona said he noticed Crawford doing a better job in getting his right foot planted, which the outfielder uses as a timing mechanism in his at-bats.

"He got his foot down on time," said Francona. "He got loaded and you can see what he does. It's exciting. When he hits, sometimes that foot doesn't get down. He knows it. All hitters know it.

"When it gets down (in time) -- and that's a lot easier said than done -- you can see what happens. He's on time instead of being late and having to take that (defensive) swing."

Crawford, who's hit safely in all seven games on the road trip, also credits better discipline at the plate.

"I'm just trying to swing at strikes," he said. "I've been focusing a little bit more and zoning in on the pitcher. I'm really just trying to swing at good pitches. I got into a (bad) habit of swinging at bad pitches. I'm just trying to get a pitch to hit."

Andrew Miller had to wait several weeks for his last start. His next one, in the series finale Thursday night, will come much sooner.

Miller is being inserted into the rotation for another spot start, in order to give Jon Lester an extra day of rest before his next start and to shift Tim Wakefield's next start at Fenway, rather than The Ballpark in Arlington.

Last Friday in Kansas City, Miller showed no ill effects of the long layoff, allowing just one run on three hits in 5 13 innings in a 7-1 Red Sox win over the Royals.

"Whenever I get the opportunity, I'll take it," said Miller. "I'm just here to help us win games. It doesn't matter when the opportunity comes.

"I obviously had a little bit of doubt going into that last one because it seemed like it had been so long, but I obviously got over that pretty quick. That's certainly not an aspect I have going into this one. I'm not worried about knocking any rust off in this one."

Miller, who has had difficulty with his command throughout his pro career, made some small corrections to his mechanics which seemed to pay immediate dividends.

"He's tried to make some adjustments with his stride," said Francona, "so the ball comes out of his arm crisp. But sometimes taking that into the game isn't the easiest thing to do in the middle of the year."

"I'm pretty comfortable with the way I threw the ball the other day," said Miller, "so I'm just trying to carry it over.
You try to get better every time out."

Miller hasn't faced the Rangers since throwing an inning in relief against them on Sept. 13, 2006.

Bobby Jenks, who has been in Fort Myers after making his third trip to the DL this season, will pitch for a minor league
affiliate Saturday.

Exactly where that is will likely be dictated by the weather and Hurricane Irene.

"We'll get it figured out," said Francona.

The plan is then to have Jenks make two more appearances for an affiliate before being activated Sept. 1 -- when rosters expand -- or soon thereafter.

Kevin Youkilis (back) continues to ramp up his cardio activity at Fenway, with an aim toward re-starting baseball activity when the Sox return to Boston.

Youkilis is eligible to come off the DL on Friday, Sept. 2. Francona said he thought the third baseman could be activated without a rehab stint, but that decision won't be made until next week.

J.D. Drew returned to Boston Wednesday and will take batting practice Thursday at Fenway before beginning a weekend assignment with Lowell on Friday

Tim Wakefield (Friday's starter) and Jon Lester (Saturday's starter) will fly back to Boston Thursday to avoid getting back to Boston at 5 a.m. with the team charter.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban visited the Red Sox clubhouse early Wednesday afternoon and met with Francona and some players.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam.

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.