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Ortiz isn’t getting carried away by his torrid April performance - it’s just a start

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / May 4, 2012
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David Ortiz was trying to make a point. A player who routinely downplays his numbers, the Red Sox redoubtable designated hitter claimed the gaudy figures he put up last month -- a .405 average with 34 hits, 20 RBIs, 6 home runs, and 61 total bases for a 1.184 OPS -- didn’t amount to the best April of his career.

And he wasn’t fooling around.

"I was looking at my April [numbers] for my career, and this hasn’t been my best April," Ortiz said Tuesday afternoon.

Ortiz supported his claim by reaching for the designer backpack near his seat and pulling out his iPad.

"I hit 10 bombs and had about 25 ribbies in 2006," said Ortiz, referring to a month in which he hit .278 (27 for 97), actually had 20 RBIs, and had a 1.030 OPS. He wound up batting .287 for the season and leading the majors with a club-record 54 home runs and 137 RBIs.

As far as Ortiz is concerned, those are the statistics by which a designated hitter is measured.

"Home runs and RBIs, that’s what’s important to me," he said. "Hitting .400 isn’t important to me. People are focused on me hitting .400, but I don’t care about hitting .400 if I don’t get 30 RBIs."

Ortiz broke into a laugh.

"Forget about .400," he said. "I ain’t going to hit .400. If I make it to June and I’m hitting over .370, you know what’s going to happen? I’m not going to see a damn pitch to hit.

"This ain’t the 1940s when Ted Williams hit .400. That ain’t happening today."

In that 1941 season, when Williams became the last major leaguer to hit .400 for a season (.406), he hit .389 in April, posting a 1.088 OPS, but he played only nine games that month, going 7 for 18 with a pair of doubles, one homer, and five RBIs. It was a small sample of the greatness to come.

His protestations notwithstanding, is Ortiz’s April a sample of greatness to come this year?

"I’m not into predictions," Ortiz said. "I leave that to you guys."

Ortiz’s .405 average is the seventh-best by a Red Sox player for April since at least 1921, and the best since 2001, when Manny Ramirez hit .408. Ortiz’s hit total and batting average were his best for April.

Ortiz has scorched the ball against lefthanders, though, hitting .448 (13 for 29) with three doubles and three homers and six RBIs for a gaudy 1.346 OPS.

"He’s been the most consistent and consistently powerful and dynamic member of our offense," said manager Bobby Valentine. "He’s been very, very consistent."

Yet Ortiz seemed to bristle when asked about his April start, perhaps still sensitive about the subject. Two years ago, skeptics raised a lot of questions when Ortiz stumbled out of the gate at .143 (8 for 56) with one home run and four RBIs, leaving some wondering whether he still deserved to be in the lineup.

"You’re talking about years where, even when I had a bad April, I came through and I pulled my year together," said Ortiz, who eventually answered the critics in 2010 when he finished the season at .270 and led the team with 32 homers and 102 RBIs.

"I’m just tired of always talking about April," Ortiz said. "April doesn’t mean [anything] to me, to be honest. If we were to play good in April last year, who knows what would’ve happened in September? July is going to tell you where you’re going to be in September."

So how does he reconcile last season’s 7-20 September swoon after the Red Sox were arguably the best team in baseball in July, going 20-6?

"Exactly," Ortiz said. "July is like a month where you exactly know where you’re going to be at. April is a month where the pitchers are going to be good at messing you up. I know the people expect a guy like myself to do well all year, but it’s not going to happen."

Which is why he doesn’t place too much stock in his April.

"Yeah, it’s been good, definitely," the 36-year-old slugger acknowledged. "Especially at my age where people are thinking the opposite and thinking he must be getting older, like the wine, right?"

Ortiz, who avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $14.58 million deal in the offseason, has certainly gotten better with age. He slimmed down by 25 pounds during the offseason and engaged in a physical regimen that, he said, "has helped me prepare to play about 200 games.

"I just [give] thanks to God for being healthy and for giving me the opportunity to come back and perform and help this ball club one way or the other,’’ he said. "But it’s not over yet. We still got five months left.

"I always say that it doesn’t matter what you do in April, but it matters what you do in September. So I’ll keep on playing and winning more games."

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

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