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Ortiz prepared to take field

He’ll see some time at first base

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / May 18, 2012
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - For 95 percent of the games in a given season, the Red Sox are thrilled to have David Ortiz on their roster. He is the best designated hitter in the game.

But for nine interleague road games, finding a way to get Ortiz in the lineup becomes a problem.

Ortiz is a first baseman in name only, having played just 39 games in the field over the last eight seasons. The Red Sox also have a Gold Glove first baseman in Adrian Gonzalez.

Gonzalez has volunteered to play right field, and manager Bobby Valentine will take him up on it for at least one of the three games in Philadelphia this weekend.

That would allow Ortiz to stay in the lineup and play first base.

Ortiz played a handful of games at first base in spring training to get ready, but when asked if that would help this weekend, he said, “No.’’ Then he laughed.

“I’m fine,’’ Ortiz said. “No fear. Wish me good luck.’’

Ortiz said he didn’t want to put too much pressure on himself.

“Try to have good communication with [second baseman Dustin Pedroia]. I just don’t want to be in the wrong place when it comes down to catching a fly ball or catching a ground ball,’’ he said. “I try to mark a territory where I can be at and after that let the guys who are out there every day take over.’’

The Red Sox will face Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, and Cliff Lee in the series. Ortiz hits all three well. He is 8 of 24 against Hamels with two home runs, 7 of 16 against Blanton with two home runs, and 7 of 13 against Lee with three doubles and a home run.

Valentine wouldn’t commit to how many games Ortiz will play in the field, other than to say he would be out there.

“We’ll see,’’ he said.

Ortiz played two games at first base last season, a total of 13 innings. Gonzalez played those 13 innings in right field.

The Red Sox played nine interleague road games in a row last season. Ortiz was 0 for 11 in those games. He then hit .242 in the 26 games that followed, saying the sporadic playing time against the National League teams helped lead to the slump.

The schedule should prove easier for Ortiz and the Red Sox to manage this season. After facing the Phillies, they won’t play without a DH again until a six-game trip to play the Marlins and Cubs that starts June 11.

The Phillies and Red Sox enter the weekend in last place in their divisions.

Corner office

Kevin Youkilis had a scheduled day off Thursday with Pawtucket and will play third base Friday in Durham, N.C. According to Valentine, it’s up to Youkilis to decide when he is activated.

“It’s on him when he’s ready,’’ the manager said.

Youkilis was 1 for 2 with a double and a walk Wednesday.

“He hit a 94-mile-per-hour fastball and was real aggressive at the plate,’’ Valentine said. “He got in all of his work. He battled a walk and it sounds like he had a good night.’’

With rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks slumping, returning Youkilis to the Boston lineup could be less difficult than once thought. Middlebrooks went 0 for 4 Thursday, giving him six hits in his last 36 at-bats. That dropped his average to .259.

Matsuzaka on mound

Daisuke Matsuzaka made the fifth start of his rehabilitation assignment Thursday night for Pawtucket, allowing five runs (four earned) on seven hits with no walks and three strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings (95 pitches) against Durham . . . The Sox had Mauro Gomez, a first baseman of Ortizian proportions, taking fly balls in left field before batting practice. “Just in case,’’ Valentine said . . . Catching instructor Gary Tuck has been away from the team for about a week attending to a family matter. Chad Epperson, a minor league instructor, is filling in.

Zimmer in house

Former Red Sox manager Don Zimmer, now a Rays senior adviser, was at Tropicana Field for the first time since early April. The 81-year-old Zimmer has been in and out of the hospital with a kidney illness . . . Another former Sox manager, Terry Francona, has taken an honorary coaching position with USA Baseball for its upcoming Prospect Classic in North Carolina.

Rhymes out of lineup

Tampa Bay infielder Will Rhymes was not in the lineup after being hit in the left arm by a pitch from Franklin Morales Wednesday night. Rhymes passed out because of the pain after he got to first base and was taken off the field on a cart. X-rays were negative. Morales sent Rhymes a text message wishing him well. “I told him don’t worry, it’s part of the game,’’ Rhymes said . . . Rays manager Joe Maddon was playing Donna Summer music before the game in memory of the Boston-born singer who died Thursday.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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