FORT MYERS, Fla. — When David Ortiz stole second base today, everybody in the stands got a good chuckle out of it. Big Papi was the last player they expected to see running.
But there was sound strategy behind it that could pay off in the regular season.
The Braves did not hold Ortiz on after his leadoff single in the fourth inning, having first baseman Freddie Freeman play off the bag. That cut down on the hole for lefthanded hitting J.D. Drew, the next batter up.
By sending Ortiz, manager Terry Francona was sending a message that the Sox are willing to take a chance.
"We wanted him to run there," Francona said. "Because if J.D. is hitting behind him, having that hole over there is something J.D. really uses. We want to make them respect that hole a little bit.
"We'd like them to hold him on during the season, that's why we did it. We want that hole open. If they don't . . . "
Drew popped to left. So much for well-laid plans. But if the threat of Ortiz running gets Drew a few extra hits this season, what the Red Sox did today will have paid off.
Meanwhile Ortiz is 5 for 8 in three games and Francona likes his approach.
"He's short to the ball right now and he's not trying to muscle up," the manager said. "He's keeping everything fair and getting the barrel to the ball real well right now. It's a nice short swing. He's barreled up about five or six balls the last three games."