Nation STATion: Ortiz slump redux

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Nation STATion: Ortiz slump redux

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

When you look at David Ortiz numbers this season, you feel pretty good right? Hes hitting .288 with 20 homers and 68 RBI.

Well, maybe Im a glass half-empty guy. Because Ive been looking at his numbers and Ill be honest, Im feeling pretty queasy.

You see, entering play on June 14, Big Papi was hitting .325, with 17 homers and 43 RBI. Since that June 14 date, the Red Sox have visited the foreign National League lands, took a break for the All-Star Game (where we watched Papi participate in the Home Run Derby), and then saw Ortiz suspended for three games after his trot to first base on a routine fly ball created a mini-brawl between two big men. And over his last 39 games, of which he has started 33, David Ortiz is 28-for-127, which comes to .220 average. He has hit 3 homers and driven home 25. His 25 RBI total is inflated by a pair of games against an impotent Kansas City Royals staff when, in back-to-back games, Ortiz drove home nine of the 25 Red Sox runs. He has walked 24 times, whiffed 24 times and grounded into 8 double plays.

When he started the 2010 so slowly, fans were saying that Ortiz was too old. In spite of all the hand wringing, he still started better and hit better last year than he has over his last 39 games, when he is actually older than he was last year. Over those first 39 games last year, Ortiz hit .272 with 11 homers and 31 RBI, walking 17 times and striking out 45 times. His OPS through 39 games last year was .929, about 200 points higher than it has been over the past 39 games this year.

Early last season, fans were truly questioning whether the Sox should pick up Ortiz 12.5 million contract. Obviously, the Red Sox did pick it up, but have you given thought as to what really was the cost of that contract? At the time the Sox renewed Ortiz they did not have Adrian Gonzalez, they did not have Carl Crawford, but what they did have were soft expectations for their continuing sellout streak at Fenway, and weaker advertising revenues on NESN. Papi was, and is, the feel-good guy. He is the guy who makes the Nation smile, so when they picked up his option on November 4, it was very much a business decision.

Looking back on the timeline, on November 23 the Tigers signed Victor Martinez and on December 4 the Sox acquired Gonzo. Then within the week, they signed Crawford. Think about the Sox lineup for the next three years if they opted for V-Mart over Ortiz. Ortiz salary for 2012 is just slightly less than the numbers that Victor Martinez was to sign for with the Detroit Tigers. V-Mart is making 13 million this year and next, and 12 million in 2014, when he turns 35 (Ortiz turns 36 in November). But there are significant differences when comparing the two hitters.

Martinez is hitting .320, with just 6 homers but 63 RBI. But not only is he a switch-hitter, but he can play the field, which Ortiz cant do without the Sox sacrificing defense both in right, when Gonzalez is moved there, and at first when Papi takes Gonzos place. So far this season, V-Mart has been a DH for 62 games (hes hitting .341 in that role), caught 25 games (his .267 is better than either Salty or Tek), and played first for six games (hitting .318 in that small sample).

Yes, David Ortiz is the Sox' top lefty against lefties this season, hitting .330 with 6 homers and 24 RBI, but hes making his dollars to destroy righties, not to go to the opposite field against lefties. And while overall his numbers are .272 with 14 homers and 42 RBI against righties, note that Adrian Gonzalez is hitting .381 with 16 homers and 66 RBI against righties and Jacoby Ellsbury is hitting .347 with 14 homers and 53 RBI against righties. Meanwhile since June 14, righties are destroying Ortiz holding him to a .181 average and no homers. You read that correctly: The last homer David Ortiz has hit off of a righty was June 12.

Point in fact is that Ortiz has really only had one stellar month. In May, Ortiz hit .342 and slammed half of his 20 homers. In June he hit .295 with five homers and it got worse in July when he hit .253 with three homers.

This is not about liking or disliking Big Papi. His infectious smile and fan-friendly presence has been an integral part of the energy of Red Sox Nation. Plus, in the past, his bat has been a threatening force in the lineup. But as we enter the dog days of the 2011 season, we also need to think of the reality of the future. Around the second week in July, Ortiz told the Heralds Michael Silverman that he hoped to receive a two-year contract extension with an option for a third year. If the Sox make it to the World Series, and if the Series goes seven games, Game Seven will take place in the National League city, minus the Designated Hitter, and minus David Ortiz, a condition that Sox fans might need to get used to in the coming years.

Farrell on Sox rotation: 'We've got to get Clay going'

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Farrell on Sox rotation: 'We've got to get Clay going'

BOSTON - Maybe it wasn't a warning shot, but more of an idle observation. Maybe it wasn't a challenge at all.

But what John Farrell had to say Sunday afternoon about Clay Buchholz was, if nothing else, noteworthy.

In assessing his team's play in the just-completed first month of the season, Farrell noted that the starting rotation, after a particularly rough beginning, had stabilized of late.

With one exception, that is.

"We've got to get Clay going, particularly," Farrell said. "He's an important part of our rotation, an important part of this team. We've got to get him on track." Buchholz is winless in his five starts, with an 0-3 mark and an inflated ERA of 6.51. He's given up a minimum of five earned runs in each start and has yet to pitch through the seventh inning.

Farrell noted that the issue has been less about quality of stuff and more about his aggressiveness - or lack thereof.

"There are times,'' Farrell said, "when we've seen Clay execute pitches with, I think, a greater conviction to the pitch. There are other times where maybe he's pitched away from contact a little bit too much and not attacked the strike zone. To me, there comes an attitude on the mound that's got to be prevailing."

The Sox aren't far from welcoming back to starters. Eduardo Rodriguez, who tweaked his knee in early March, is set to make his second rehab start for Pawtucket Tuesday and could conceivably return five days after that. At most, Rodriguez will be ready with one more additional outing.

Next up is Joe Kelly, who is on the DL with a shoulder impingement. Kelly has thrown some bullpen sessions and could begin a rehab assignment later in the week.

That will lead to the Sox making some tough decisions in the coming weeks. It had been widely assumed that knuckleballer Steven Wright would be he most vulnerable starter, but Wright is 2-2 with a 1.37 ERA in four outings.

Asked to assess where the Sox within the context of the division, Farrell said: "We're probably searching to shore up areas that are in need, and that first starts with making the necessary adjustments with the guys that are on our roster now. Not that we're going to make wholesale changes. Like I said, we've got to get Clay going. That's a big improvement that we could make."

 

AL East picture through April: Red Sox better than expected

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AL East picture through April: Red Sox better than expected

BOSTON -- With the first month of the season at coming to a close, Boston finds itself half a game behind Baltimore for first place and 2.5 games ahead of the third place Rays.

With the question marks surrounding the pitching staff behind David Price entering the season, among other issues, the Red Sox are in a much better position than initially expected.

John Farrell credits much of the early success to his potent offense.

“[We] finished better than we started I think the biggest thing is that guys in our lineup have developed that trust in one another,” he said. “There [are] some elements to our offense that’ve been very encouraging. The all-field approach and the way we’ve run the bases [have] been very consistent.”

It’s undeniable that the newfound consistency to the pitching staff has been a huge help -- although Farrell did note Clay Buchholz needs to get the ball rolling.

“The last two turns through the rotation has been more consistent. We’ve been able to give our guys in the bullpen a little bit more regular rest,” Farrell said. “I like the fact that we’ve added to the depth of power arms in our bullpen. We still have room for improvement we know that.

Entering the final game of the opening series against New York, the Red Sox and the Orioles are the only AL East teams with winning records against their inter-division rivals.

Even though they’ve performed better than anticipated, a case can be made that the Red Sox should sit in first place.

Tampa Bay shut them out in the opener, and won the final game of the series that was powered by a rare David Price implosion.

Toronto won the final two games of the second season series by the skin of its teeth, narrowly avoiding Red Sox comebacks in the ninth inning of each game.

Baltimore won the first game of its opening series in Boston thanks to a ninth inning home run.

New York has one game left before both teams leave town and, weather permitting, Boston has a chance to start May off properly -- by disposing of the only team in the AL East stuck with single digit wins.

With the ups and downs for the five AL East teams, Farrell doesn’t expect there will be disparity in the division.

“Every team has got their strengths,” he said. “We don’t expect this to be a huge separation among any of the five teams here. We’re all probably searching to sure up areas that we’re in need of. That first starts with making the necessary adjustments with the guys that are on our roster right now. Not that we’re going to make wholesale changes.”