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Papi, meet the pine

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff June 2, 2009 08:58 AM

On the evening that David Ortiz hit his first home run of the 2009 season, the Red Sox designated hitter was batting .203. His on-base percentage was a measly .317; his OPS an eye-opening .610.

After that night, there was hope. Flickering, indeed, but hope nonetheless.

Today, the flame is out. There is no hope for Big Papi.

In the 10 games which Ortiz has played since his lone bright spot of the season on May 20 vs. the Blue Jays, he has managed just four hits: three singles and a double. He’s batting .100 over that stretch, and his OBP has slipped to .284. His OPS: .570.

It’s become borderline cliché to ask, “What’s wrong with Big Papi?”

Obviously a move needs to be and will be made to improve an offense that last week started to feel the effects of Ortiz’s struggles. They’re 3-4 on this current road trip, which considering their road troubles thus far this season isn’t all bad. But they’ve scored just 27 runs over the last week, averaging fewer than four per game.

Unless there’s some lingering sense in the front office that a “vacation” can aid Ortiz so that he might contribute something, anything, down the road (and oh, yeah, next season too) your full-time DH for the last 2-3 months of this season will feature the likes of Adam Dunn, Victor Martinez, Matt Holliday, or ... well, Julio Lugo is a better DH option, isn’t he?

The sight of Ortiz riding the pine, a pinch-hitting opportunity nobody wants to have to utilize, will perhaps be even sadder to witness than this prolonged slump. Imagine, come playoff time, if the Sox are fortunate to be playing in October, a postseason roster that does not have Ortiz’s name on it.

Barring some miraculous turn of events, that would be the case the Sox face in ’09.

Clearly, a phantom injury needs to pop up sooner or later. Send Ortiz to Florida, where he can work on his swing. Maybe something, anything, comes back and he can knock a few off the Wall down the stretch. At the very least, it gets him away from the team, the fans, and the road, none of which is helping him rediscover any semblance of the ballplayer he once was.

It’s not getting any better. In fact, it’s getting worse. And the more we have to watch Ortiz’s epic struggles, the more impatient the fans are going to become. Even icons don't have a shelf life of carte blanche. We know how fiercely Terry Francona likes to protect his players, but seeing Ortiz in the lineup nearly every night is doing nothing to save him from himself.

Players have emerged from slumps in the past. And maybe there is hope for 2010. But right now, no signs point to a sudden turnaround any time soon. Shelf him and pray. That's about the best option.

There is nothing positive to take from Ortiz’s lost season. The Fenway Park plaque boasting him as the Greatest Clutch Hitter reads like a gravestone these days, memorializing the death of a Red Sox legend's career.

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