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Sox hope these key batters will be a solid triple

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / March 30, 2010

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — For an entire offseason and into spring training, all we’ve heard are questions about whether the Red Sox have enough hitting to augment their new focus on run prevention. Now that Opening Day is near, have the questions subsided?

Not really.

Scouts who have watched the Sox regularly still wonder where all the runs are going to come from.

Entering last night’s game, newcomer Mike Cameron has a .375 average this spring, and another new addition, Adrian Beltre is at .278. David Ortiz had a poor start, a strong middle, and is having a so-so ending.

One does not have to worry about Victor Martinez, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, J.D. Drew, or even Marco Scutaro.

Baseball people who have watched the Sox still don’t know what to make of Cameron, Beltre, and Ortiz, the consensus being they’ll be the keys to whether the Sox are a really good offensive team or whether they will need every bit of their pitching and defense to keep them in games.

“You’ve got to take that for what it is,’’ said Drew when asked about the offense. “We lost Jason Bay, who is coming off a great year. Teams just do things in different ways in different years. I think we have a more solid lineup when you throw Scutaro, Cameron, and Beltre into the mix. It kind of shores things up throughout the lineup.

“Do you miss a guy like Jason who hit a lot of home runs and knocked in a lot of runs? Technically you do. If you can get guys who can get on base, that’s great, too. I think the core of our lineup is still there. So, no, I don’t think that’s an issue. And if you look at our pitching staff, maybe it’s not as important to score as many runs.’’

After the Sox made their moves this winter, hitting coach Dave Magadan was asked if they had enough offense to compete in an offensive-minded division, and he said they did.

A hitting coach is probably not going to say his team is short a bat or two, but he might hint that he’s concerned. So he was asked about the offense again yesterday, and he said, “I still feel the same way.’’

Magadan was asked to evaluate the three players everyone seems to be concerned about.

Beltre: “Adrian started a little slow and was having trouble finding a comfort zone and I thought he was doing some things that resembled some of the bad habits in Seattle. We’re trying to get him back to where he was in ’04 with the Dodgers [when he hit 48 homers]. It’s a process, and he’s getting there slowly but surely. I know he’s feeling better about his swing right now but I feel he can improve.

“Looking at the video of ’04, he hit a lot of home runs to center, right-center, and even to right. He’s got enough power to hit it to right-center at Fenway. He’s got to realize we play half the games on the road and a lot of those porches to right-center and right are easy for him to reach. I don’t want to make him a pull hitter because Fenway lends itself to being a righthanded pull hitter’s park. Just be a good hitter and hit the ball where it’s pitched.’’

Is it fair to say Beltre at least needs to match Mike Lowell’s numbers? “He just needs to be himself,’’ Magadan said. “I don’t want to put any numbers on him as far comparing him to Mike, who has done such a great job here. I just want him to get a little bit closer to what he was in LA. I don’t expect 40-plus homers, but his approach back then was that he had a chance every at-bat. Last year in Seattle he took a big step backward [8 HRs, 44 RBIs in 111 games].’’

Cameron: “Cam has swung the bat very well in camp. He hit the ground running when he got here and he hasn’t disappointed. He’s done everything we expected. With Mike there’s really not much to change mechanically and physically. At times when he gets into trouble he loses his aggressiveness and becomes passive. His history has been of a guy who strikes out a lot. I don’t want him going up there, especially when he’s got two strikes, to be guessing. That’s what I worked with him on when I was with him in San Diego. We’ve got to get him to sitting on the fastball with two strikes. I think the numbers he’s put up speak for themselves. He’s been consistent with what has been his production for some time.’’

Ortiz: “I know [his spring start] was fodder for the media because he came out of the gate 1 for 19, but he was working on stuff. He made some adjustments over the offseason that we discussed at the end of the year and I wanted to see him work on. He showed up exactly the way I wanted him [15 pounds lighter] so it’s just a matter of adjusting to his timing at the plate. His middle 10-15 at-bats in spring training were unbelievable. He kind of got away from it for a few days, but for the last couple of games he’s looked better at the plate. He’s given himself a better chance. Put a nice swing on the ball [Sunday] when he hit the home run. I’ve seen good signs from David all spring. I know the numbers don’t show that.’’

There really is no way of telling whether this trio will do its part. Ortiz definitely has the biggest weight on his shoulders because he needs to return to the feared clutch hitter he was in Boston’s championship seasons.

Lowell has averaged .295 with 19 homers and 87 RBIs in four seasons with Boston and Beltre averaged .266 with 20 homers and 79 RBIs with Seattle over the last five years. Home ballpark has to be taken into consideration because Beltre played at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.

Can Cameron be 80 percent of Bay? That seems to be the hope.

Beltre came to Boston with the hope he could reinvent his swing and that a small ballpark would help him show his power.

“I work hard every day on it,’’ said Beltre. “I’ve got to close my eyes when I see the Wall. I have to hit the other way to be successful and I know that. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m going to be reminded of it.’’

All three will be reminded of it if they don’t live up to the expectations of fans, media, and management.

A team has got to hit in the American League, and right now there’s still doubt if the Red Sox will.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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