Looking at his lineup card and seeing Will Middlebrooks hitting seventh speaks volumes to Red Sox manager John Farrell. Not about Middlebrooks. But about the impact of the 6-foot-4-inch, 250-pound slugger who will return to the cleanup spot Saturday. After a rehab stint in Pawtucket, David Ortiz will make his regular season debut against the Royals, adding an additional dimension to the Red Sox batting order.
“Not only the ability of him as a player and a hitter,” Farrell said. “It’s having him in the lineup.”
Ortiz went 4 of 18 in Pawtucket. Last season, he hit .353 against the Royals with a home run and three RBIs. Watching him over the course of his career, Farrell said, he’s only gotten better as a hitter.
“He's done a much better job of letting the ball travel deeper in the zone. He's taking full advantage of the ballpark here. But even on the road, in other ballparks where they don't have the Wall, he's got the capability to drive the ball out of the ball park to left-center field. I think any hitter that's able to drive the ball to the opposite field gap, it just tells you that they're not afraid to get jammed.
“That they're seeing the ball all the way through the strike zone and that makes them that much more difficult to pitch to. They don't open up a side of the plate because they're a dead-pull hitter. David, for as good as he's been for a long time, has gotten better with age.
To make room for Ortiz, the Red Sox sent Jackie Bradley to Pawtucket. Though he shined in spring training, Bradley struggled early on in the regular season, hitting just .097 with 12 strikeouts in 31 at-bats, going nearly two weeks without a hit before finally being demoted.
Over the course of 20 hitless at-bats, it became clear how quickly pitchers had learned to pitch to Bradley. Seeing mostly fastballs (60.9 percent) and curveballs (11.2 percent), according to Fangraphs, he found himself swinging at nearly 42 percent of the pitches he saw. Pitchers loaded him with first-pitch strikes 63.2 percent of the time. He was dropped to ninth in the order at one point. At different times, Farrell chose to leave him out of the lineup.
"It should be a very good learning experience," Farrell said. "The understanding of the information that's out there and how quickly it circulates how he can become pitched to, but at the same time to know that he's a very important part of our organization and a very good player going forward.
“We fully expect and have the utmost confidence he's going to be a very good everyday player in time. Everybody goes through a transition period and hopefully this adds to that transition and makes it happen that much quicker for him. Players are going to fail and they're going to get challenged and the fact that Jackie got it early in his career, I think, will serve him well going forward.”