McAdam: Ortiz feels right against lefties again

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McAdam: Ortiz feels right against lefties again

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- Of the 361 homers David Ortiz has hit in his career, there was nothing particularly memorable about his most recent one, hit in the eighth inning of Tuesday's 10-7 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

Unlike so many of the others, this one did not put the Red Sox ahead or even tie the score. It merely made the final score just slightly more respectable.

But that's not to suggest that there wasn't something symbolic about the homer.

The Red Sox had two runners on and two out, attempting to claw back against the White Sox. Manager Ozzie Guillen summoned lefthander Will Ohman from the visitors' bullpen.

Ortiz swatted a pitch from Ohman high in the air to left and watched it come to rest atop the Monster Seats. The homer not only foiled Guillen's strategy, but marked Ortiz's third homer in 55 at-bats against lefties this season.

The three homers off lefties represent one more than Ortiz hit all of last season against lefthanded pitchers. He's done more damage against lefties in 55 at-bats this season than he did in 185 at-bats through the entire 2010 season.

"I guess everybody was questioning me hitting against lefties,'' said Ortiz. "I've said before, most of the time when you struggle against lefties, you're getting yourself out. You're chasing (pitches) out of the strike zone. That's pretty much what they try to make you do -- chase out of the strike zone. When you force them to stay in the strike zone, you've got to take advantage of it.''

Whatever approach Ortiz tried last year, it didn't work. He hit just .222 against lefties and his slugging percentage against righties (.643) was nearly double what it was against lefties (.324).

He lost early-season at-bats to Mike Lowell against lefties and even when he rebounded somewhat in the second half, the threat of sitting against lefties remained.

Before the Red Sox agreed to pick up his 12.5 million option for 2011, Terry Francona warned Ortiz that he would need to earn his at-bats against lefthanders this year.

"He did not want to be a part-time DH,'' said hitting coach Dave Magadan. "He knew that to be as productive as he wanted to be, he was going to have hit lefties. It was a conscious effort on his part.''

In addition to laying off pitches out of the strike zone, Magadan sees Ortiz intent on using the whole field. Case in point: last night's homer, which traveled to the opposite field.

"The last two or three years,'' said Magadan, "he was just using from second over to the right field line (against lefties). We talked a lot about in 2007, when he was doing a lot of damage against everybody, when lefties came in to face him, he wore out that Monster.''

It's helped that Ortiz has talked hitting frequently with Adrian Gonzalez, who has always hit lefties over the course of his career.

"I've watched him,'' said Ortiz of his teammate. "This guy, he tries to stay through the ball against everybody. In this game, you never finish learning. I've been asking questions my whole career. Having somebody like him here, why not take advantage of it?''

So Ortiz has. His success against righties and lefties has made him an everyday staple in the lineup. The looming threat of a platoon at DH is over.

"I've hit lefties before pretty good - I know I could again,'' said Ortiz.

Asked if took any special satisfaction from proving his point, Ortiz answered without hesitation.

"Definitely,'' he said. "That's what's going to keep you in the game, and keep you being an everyday player as long as you play.

"I don't feel like being a backup yet.''

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

Thursday's lineups: Red Sox vs. Braves

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Thursday's lineups: Red Sox vs. Braves

BOSTON -- The Red Sox and Braves play the finale of their home-and-home, four-game series tonight . . . to the Sox' dismay, no doubt.

Boston has won the first three games by a combined score of 21-8, extending its overall winning streak to four. The Sox have also won five of their last six, and six of their last eight, as they've closed to within a half-game of the first-place Orioles in the A.L. East. In addition, they now hold one of the two A.L. wild-card positions.

The lineups:

BRAVES:
Nick Markakis RF
Daniel Castro 3B
Adonis Garcia DH
Freddie Freeman 1B
A.J. Pierzynski C
Jeff Francoeur LF
Jace Peterson 2B
Erick Aybar SS
Mallex Smith CF
---
Jhoulys Chacin P

RED SOX:
Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Travis Shaw 3B
Chris Young LF
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Christian Vazquez C
---
Clay Buchholz P

Hanigan on handling the knuckler: ‘It’s always a battle’

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Hanigan on handling the knuckler: ‘It’s always a battle’

BOSTON - Major league catchers take a beating behind the plate. It goes with the territory.
      
There are foul tips off fingers, jarring blows to facemasks and, even in the aftermath of new rules regarding slides, vicious collisions with baserunners.
      
Those are all well-known parts of the job. Goes with the territory, catchers will shrug and say.
      
But what happened to Ryan Hanigan Wednesday night -- and last Friday night in Houston, for that matter -- was a different sort of test.
      
It was Hanigan's job to coral Steven Wright's knuckleball, dipping and darting in most unpredictable ways. Even the Atlanta Braves hitters seemingly had an easier time hitting the pitch than Hanigan did catching it.
      
Forget 99-mph fastballs; the toughest pitch for a catcher to handle is a knuckler that may not top 75 mph. 
      
From the second through the fourth inning, Hanigan battled and boxed balls, almost blocking and tackling them -- when he wasn't chasing them to the backstop, that is.
      
"It was really dancing tonight,'' said Hanigan after the Red Sox' 9-4 win over Atlanta. "I think the wind played a factor. It was going all over the place.''
      
And, so, at times, was Hanigan, scrambling to keep the ball in  front of him, and, occasionally, going to retrieve it.
      
In the fourth inning, Erick Aybar reached on a strikeout passed ball, took second base, and eventually third on two more passed balls. He was
one more floating, errant knuckler away from circling the bases despite never making contact with a pitch, or being advanced by a teammate making contact.
      
All Hanigan could do was hold on -- make that TRY to hold on -- for dear life.
      
"I was talking to the [home plate] umpire back there,'' chuckled Hanigan. "It was going up, down, left, right...It's always a battle. It's 
tough - every time I catch it, it's a small victory. Some days, it's more consistent in the way it moves. Some days, it's darting left and right and all over. It was one of those nights. I struggled a little bit with some of them back there.
      
"You're not going to catch all of them. That's just how it is. You have to try to stay positive, try working with him back there, keep him in his rhythm and [have him] throw as many strikes as he can.''
      
Problem is, even the strikes can be difficult to catch. At the last possible instant, the knuckleball can evade Hanigan's mitt, like a butterfly eluding capture. 
      
Wright can't help but have some sympathy for his batterymate.
      
"There's times where it can get frustrating [for him],’’ said Wright. "He does a great job. I can't give enough credit to him and what he's done.''
      
The paradox, of course, is that Wright wants the ball to move as much as possible to confound the hitters. Hanigan does too, but he has to deal with the consequences.
      
"The ones that stay high,'' he explained, "you expect a little drop. But they just don't. They tip off the top [of the catcher's mitt]. Those are tough. He had them really darting tonight. It just takes a  left turn on me. Those are tough. But that's what you want. So I just try to knock 'em down.
      
"You just can't really anticipate which way it's going to go. One will go right, one will go left, one will be flat, one will kind of  take off. And I think the wind [is a factor]. It helps [Wright].’’
      
While at the same time, hurting Hanigan.
      
Wright lasted seven innings, allowing just one unearned run.  Hanigan then went back to conventional pitchers Tommy Layne and Matt Barnes.
      
"Man, when I put the other glove on...it's all gravy after that,'' he said. "There's predictability as to which way the ball is going to move, at least to some extent. With the knuckleball, it does what it wants.''
      
And it's Hanigan's thankless task to catch it. Or chase after it.
      

Tom Glavine: Atlanta sports fans apathy was frustrating at times

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Tom Glavine: Atlanta sports fans apathy was frustrating at times

Former Atlanta Braves pitcher and baseball Hall of Famer Tom Glavine talks with Toucher & Rich about the apathy of the Atlanta fan base, where playoff games in the early rounds would frequently not sellout.