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Taking it — to heart

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 13, 2010

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MINNEAPOLIS — David Ortiz seemingly has come to grips with the fact he’s going to have to answer for his lack of performance until, well, until it doesn’t matter anymore.

It’s not for a lack of work or caring that Ortiz finds himself under siege. From what hitting coach Dave Magadan said yesterday, Ortiz is really messed up at the plate but appears to be moving forward. Even two strikeouts, a foul pop, and an RBI double in a 5-2 loss to the Twins was better than his four-strikeout performance Sunday at Kansas City.

“I thought [the double] was a nice swing,’’ said Magadan. “I thought ordinarily that ball is a home run. The ball wasn’t carrying that well [to left-center]. It was a nice bright spot. It was a positive step forward.’’

Ortiz echoed the sentiment. “I thought I hit it better than that, but that’s the biggest part of the ballpark.’’

In 24 plate appearances, Ortiz has struck out 11 times. He has three hits, two doubles. He has two RBIs, no home runs.

He was taking called third strikes Sunday and yesterday he checked his swing on a called third strike. Yet he’s seeing a lot of pitches, going deep into counts. Will the called third strikes turn into something positive? Will the check-swings turn into good swings that lead to production?

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,’’ Magadan said. “He is seeing pitches and for the most part he’s getting himself in decent hitters’ counts. He just needs to start taking advantage of it. He’s probably not seeing the ball really well.

“When you’re a little unsure of the strike zone and have a fear of recognizing the pitches you tend to get a lot of check swings. I think he had a couple of check swings on fastballs. More often than not you’re on the side of being a little more aggressive and it lends itself to getting out of it. I think you can get a little passive and end up taking some pitches you can normally put a pretty good swing on. I think he’s a little bit in-between right now, but I think he took a step forward from [Sunday].’’

If it was, it was a baby step.

Ortiz said he felt encouraged by the hit, but he’s had two other hits and neither garnered him momentum.

“I just have to keep swinging the bat, man,’’ he said. “Just battle every day and hope things start to turn.’’

Magadan thinks it’s not just a mental block, “I think it’s a combination of a few things.’’

“I think he has to realize, and I think he does, that he’s 24 at-bats into the season. I know the questions are asked of him every day, especially when he takes an 0-fer like [Sunday] in a four-strikeout game, but we understand that it’s a process. He’s kind of feeling his way through it now and today was a step forward and now we’ll concentrate on Wednesday.’’

Magadan works with Ortiz every day. The only way Ortiz can work out of it is by following the right mechanics in his swing.

“We’re talking about a few things,’’ explained Magadan. “There are some mechanical issues we’re still trying to iron out. I think when you are working on things mechanically, your focus isn’t 100 percent on the pitches. You’re thinking a little too much about what you’re doing at the plate and we want him to be focused on 100 percent of the pitches. He’s getting there, but right now he’s probably 70-30 focused. When he gets to 100 percent and he’s focused on picking up the baseball, you’re going to see better swings.’’

Did Ortiz show better mechanics yesterday?

“It’s a start. It’s a positive thing,’’ Magadan said.

Sunday’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that Ortiz was battling a wrist injury, but he denied it. Magadan said, “I don’t know anything about a wrist injury.’’

Ortiz doesn’t want to make excuses. If he is hurt he wouldn’t be playing. The Red Sox tend to be overprotective with injuries, so it’s hard to fathom Ortiz has been playing hurt.

“He’s under a microscope,’’ Magadan said. “A lot of it is what happened last year. I know he thinks about it more after the game when the questions come in. I think for the most part he’s trying to get through that process and get to the point where he feels he’s got a chance on every pitch. Unfortunately it’s part of his job description to have to deal with tough questions afterward. I look at today as a positive, got a big hit for us and drove in a run.’’

Ortiz was more accommodating than after the second game of the season, when he blew up at reporters.

But he has few answers. If he did, he’d be figuring this stuff out and saving his career.

For now he said he’s hopeful and encouraged. He can’t really describe what’s going on. He wishes the questions would stop, but he knows that only he can make that happen. Only he can back up the feeling he had in the offseason, that feeling that he’s going to be a good hitter again. He’s just not at that point yet. And you know it’s killing him inside.

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

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