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FORT MYERS, Fla. — David Ortiz was sure until only last week that he would be ready to play against the Yankees on Opening Day.
Now the Red Sox slugger’s goal has changed to simply getting in the lineup at some point and staying there. Ortiz hopes that day comes a few weeks into the regular season, but he acknowledged Monday it could take longer.
The 37-year-old designated hitter learned on Sunday that he has inflammation in both heels, a condition caused by the right Achilles’ strain he suffered last July. He has been shut down for at least a week and put on medication.
Ortiz has yet to play in a spring training game and probably will not before the team breaks camp March 30 given that he would first have to run the bases without discomfort.
Once Ortiz does start playing, he would need at least 35-50 plate appearances in extended spring training or minor league games before being ready to rejoin the Sox.
“When somebody hasn’t played for as long as I’ve been out, you definitely want to play before you go back into action,” Ortiz said. “You definitely need to be comfortable.”
Given all those factors, Ortiz could miss the first month.
“Opening Day was my goal,” he said. “You heard me talking about it when I first got here. I was swinging good and I was pushing things the way I was being told.
“Right now, Opening Day seems like it’s not the case. The case is get me healthy for five or five and a half good months. You know what I’m saying? That’s what we’re looking for now.”
The loss of Ortiz is significant. The Sox were 45-43 with Ortiz in the lineup last season, 24-50 without him. The team averaged 5.0 runs a game with a .771 OPS before Ortiz injured his Achilles’ on July 16. They averaged 3.9 runs with a .678 OPS afterward.
“It’s huge because of the kind of player David is,” said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “But we still have good players on this team.”
Said Ortiz: “I’ve been talking to a lot of them and the one thing that I keep on telling them is just try to do what you do your best. Don’t try to do more than that. You’re going to bump into some tough times, just learn how to deal with it and everything’s going to be taken care of.”
Sox manager John Farrell said one consideration would be using Mike Napoli as the DH and using a different player at first base. Mike Carp, Daniel Nava, and Lyle Overbay are among the players who have backed up Napoli at first base this spring.
Napoli, who is dealing with a hip condition, could benefit from being the DH.
“It’s safe to say we don’t have another David Ortiz to occupy that slot,” Farrell said. “Where the best matchups are and how do we balance Mike Napoli playing every day. Everything projects where he would be fine, but we all have to consider that.”
Ortiz believes the inflammation at the juncture of the bone and a tendon in his heel was caused by the Achilles’ injury and the months of downtime over the winter.
“I was compensating, that’s one thing. The other thing is the time without running and doing all that activity,” he said. “But I was compensating [for the Achilles’]. That’s why I was getting a little bit of inflammation on the [right] side.”
Ortiz said he experienced pain four or five hours after spring training workouts. He spoke to the team’s medical staff about his concerns and they agreed an MRI should be taken.
Ortiz was relieved the diagnosis he received Sunday wasn’t worse.
“It’s not anything crazy, thank God,” Ortiz said. “But it’s going to take a couple of weeks to get fixed.”
Now the plan is to make sure that once he does return, Ortiz isn’t bouncing back and forth to the disabled list.
“The one thing that we really are working on is when I’m back, I’m back. It’s not just coming back for a couple of weeks and go back to the same thing,” he said. “They’re trying to fix the whole thing. That way when I get back in the lineup, I’m going to be in there for the season . . . I want to be able to focus on what I do on the baseball field.”
The normally ebullient Ortiz has been downcast about the setback. With the Sox trying to change the face of their team with a new manager and assortment of new players, he has been on the sideline watching.
“It’s not a good feeling. I’ve been working really hard this offseason just to make sure I’m good to go for the season,” he said. “This happened. It’s not me being me, you know?
“We’re humans. We’re humans. Nobody wants to be injured. Me, I was going 120 percent this offseason working with this injury. The good news is that it had nothing to do with my Achilles’, like it used to be. That made me happy at least.”