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Ortiz has lost weight and regained his skills

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 25, 2012
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MINNEAPOLIS - A determination not to go on medication to reduce his cholesterol may be the reason David Ortiz has found a new gear.

Ortiz was motivated to lower his cholesterol by eating better and working out more in the offseason. He lost 25 pounds, down to 250, and is motoring around the bases about as well as he ever has in his career.

Ortiz said he will play two more years after this season, then call it a career. But he wants them to be productive years.

“People expect me to be a game-changer, and when it reaches the point where I can’t do that anymore, I’m getting out,’’ said the Red Sox DH before Tuesday night’s game against the Twins. “When I swing the bat and nothing happens anymore, then that’s it. For as long as I play, I want to make a difference.’’

He did Tuesday night.

Ortiz went 2 for 4 with a homer and three RBIs in the Sox’ 11-2 win over Minnesota. He’s hitting .444 with three homers and 15 RBIs, and his 28 hits through 16 games are the most ever by a Red Sox lefthanded hitter.

His two-run blast in the third off Nick Blackburn went 429 feet.

“I’m having so much fun playing the game again,’’ he said. “I love to be able to do things on the field that I couldn’t do before. I’m running the bases better and harder, hitting lefthanded pitchers and going the other way. Everything I’ve tried to get better with, I’m getting better with.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say to me how much they appreciate that I run hard down the line, or I go from first to third or try to stretch a single into a double.

“I love that part of the game and I’m able to do that now. That’s why it’s fun. When you’re carrying 25 extra pounds on you, it’s hard to do those things. But this is the way I want to play the game.’’

Ortiz will earn a $14.5 million salary this season. He said he offered to play on a two-year deal for $25 million in the offseason, but the Red Sox came in “far below’’ that on a two-year offer.

“I never want to come off as greedy,’’ said Ortiz, who grew up in a middle-class family, the son of an auto parts dealer. “I have never asked for one penny more than what I thought I should get.

“I offered the Red Sox a chance to sign me for two years at no raise. I just wanted the two years.’’

It seems he is the poster boy for one-year contracts. Is that the motivation for his conditioning?

“I played hard when I had a long-term deal,’’ he said. “I have given everything I have every minute I’ve played for the Boston Red Sox because I love the name. I love wearing that uniform.

“That means so much to me to wear it, and wear it for the rest of my career. I remember John Henry once told me that I was the only player he’s ever known who really is able to play in Boston. And he’s right.

“I know how to handle everything in Boston.’’

Which is why ownership has talked to Ortiz about working for the organization after his playing days.

“They have mentioned that to me,’’ Ortiz said. “That’s something I would like to do, because I’d like to help this organization in any way I can, whether it’s talking to younger kids or whatever.’’

The Red Sox, however, have not offered Ortiz that “lifetime contract,’’ and under the new basic agreement, it appears they won’t be able to, as personal services-type deals have been eliminated.

But Ortiz would love to have security for the rest of his career.

“I told them last year, ‘You should sign me now because I’m going to have a great year, and it’s going to cost you money,’ ’’ he said. “I told them the same thing this year.’’

In addition to his American League-leading average, the 36-year-old Ortiz entered Tuesday night’s game with a 1.155 OPS and a .477 on-base percentage. His career OPS was .924.

With his homer off Blackburn, he has hit 381 in his career - 336 as a DH, most in history - and has 1,281 RBIs.

When the final chapter is written on his career, he and Edgar Martinez likely will be considered the two best DHs ever - and Ortiz will have (at least) two World Series championships.

Terry Ryan, the Twins GM who let Ortiz go on waivers after the 2002 season, still kicks himself for that decision.

Perhaps the 40- and 50-homer years are gone.

“I just try to hit it where the pitcher throws it,’’ he said.

That has resulted in more opposite-field hits, and now opponents are wondering whether they should abandon the usual shift against Ortiz and just play him straight away.

“I don’t even care about the shift anymore,’’ Ortiz said. “When they do it, they’re going to pitch me a certain way, but I know they’re going to give me one pitch on the outside part of the plate, and that I try to drive to the opposite field. And if I keep doing that, they’re going to pitch me in, in, and more in, and that’s fine with me, too.’’

Asked if he feels he’s a better hitter than he’s ever been, Ortiz said, “I think when you’re younger, you have more quickness in your bat. I know that I know more about it now than I ever did. I know what the pitchers are trying to do with me.

“So that part, I guess, I’m going the other way more and I think that’s helped me contribute more. I still have my power, but what’s important for me is to get on base and drive in runs.’’

After he hit .222 against lefties in 2010, Ortiz was determined to improve on that. He entered Tuesday’s game hitting .474 (9 for 19) vs. lefties. In 2011, he hit .329 against them with a .989 OPS.

“A lot of my at-bats are going to be against lefties late in the game,’’ he said. “Some of these teams have two or three lefties in the bullpen, so I know I’m going to face them.’’

“I think I can do this for the next three years until I retire,’’ he said. “I love to compete. I know I have a good time with the guys before the game, but once I get on the field, I want to win.

“Some friends of mine gave me a plaque that I have at my house. It says, ‘October is the Big Papi Show.’

“That’s so true. I looked at that last offseason and it made me so mad what happened to us last year and that we weren’t able to get back to the playoffs. I miss being in the playoffs. I want to get there this year. I’m going to do everything I can to help us do that.’’

He will go down as one of the great people who ever have donned a Boston uniform.

Even Tuesday, he met with the Red Sox to set up a new charitable arm to his foundation, to collect toys from Red Sox fans in exchange for an autograph.

“When I go back to the Dominican and see those kids . . . they’re so poor, they have nothing,’’ he said. “I want to be able to give them something and see them smile.’’

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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