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Ortiz hits upon something

Designated hitter isn’t chasing as many pitches

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By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / May 18, 2011

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As rain pelted Fenway Park yesterday, David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez sat inside the Red Sox clubhouse, the team’s hottest hitter and biggest slugger talking shop before the postponement of last night’s game against the Orioles.

Ortiz marveled at how Gonzalez was able to go opposite field on three home runs he hit last week in Toronto, while Gonzalez shared his secrets on how to hit on top of the ball or underneath it with a simple adjustment.

It was a hitting clinic by a two-man wrecking crew.

Ortiz has been particularly tough on lefthanded pitchers this season, hitting .308 vs. them with a pair of home runs, while hitting .279 vs. righties with five homers.

April historically has been Ortiz’s toughest month; he has hit .255 for his career during the opening month of the season. But this year, he hit .267 in April with 3 doubles, 2 homers, 1 triple, and 11 RBIs.

In May, Ortiz is hitting above his career average for the month (.286) with a .316 average, with 3 doubles, 5 homers, and 8 RBIs. Much of his success, he said, is rooted in his approach and plate discipline, especially against lefties.

“You saw my at-bat against the lefty last night,’’ said Ortiz, referring to his sixth-inning at-bat Monday against Orioles reliever Clay Rapada, who wound up walking him. “He just wanted me to chase bad pitches. Once I stay away from that, I’m OK.’’

“It’s pretty much what every guy you face wants you to do,’’ Ortiz said. “I was facing CC [Sabathia] the other night [in New York] and he’s a power pitcher, but he got me in the same situation, chasing pitches that were not hittable. Once you stay away from that, you got a chance.’’

Ortiz said he came to that realization last year, when he suffered through some early-season doldrums.

“At one point, I was like, ‘You know what? I need to stay away from bad pitches,’ and I started hitting lefties last year,’’ he said. “But I was just digging out of a hole, hitting good for average, and then I started paying attention to it because everybody started making a big deal of it.

“I know that once I started paying attention to it, I could feel it myself, because I’ve been facing lefties my whole life.’’

It has been a process, though. And Ortiz said there’s a lot to process at the plate.

“My position isn’t the most enjoyable,’’ Ortiz said. “You need to have one goal to be a designated hitter and if you’re not hitting, it [stinks]. I have three different jobs here: 1. designated hitter; 2. cheerleader; and 3. make sure that we have everything stay where we like it to be.

“Because being in here instead of being out there, I kind of suffer things more than when you’re in the field playing defense, you know? It can be if I’m not hitting, or it can be when the whole team is suffering. In here, I can see it more than when you’re out there trying to catch a ball.’’

He relishes being a glue guy in the clubhouse.

“It’s how it is, man,’’ Ortiz said. “It’s a responsibility that you don’t really have to care about it, but you have to.’’

And he does it whether he’s going good or bad.

He’s done more good than bad lately, hitting in 15 of his last 21 games (26 for 84, .310) and recording multiple hits in six of his last 13, batting .321 in that stretch. Three times in the last 10 games he’s tied his season high with three hits, and he has gone deep in three of his last six games, leaving him two homers shy of reaching 300 with the Sox.

“Let me tell you, the other day I played a game and I had five at-bats,’’ he said, recalling a 2-1 victory over the Twins last Monday. “I put a good swing on four of those at-bats. You know how many hits I got?’’

Ortiz held up his right hand, his fingers forming a perfect circle.

“Zero,’’ he said. “Remember that one at-bat, my first at-bat? I hit a rocket to left field and the guy [Ben Revere], out of nowhere, dove and caught it. So people sometimes want to talk about hitting because of what they see, but they might not have an idea of what hitting is all about.’’

“There’s a lot of things you’ve to go put together to get a hit,’’ he said. “In my case, when I’m hitting, I’m not that kind of guy who has that kind of luck of making a bad swing and getting a hit. I’ve got to be compact with my swing, because that’s how I am.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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