In 2010, David Ortiz would have been benched for Sunday’s game against the Rays. A hard-throwing lefthander like Matt Moore was just the kind of pitcher who ate him up.
Ortiz hit .217 against lefthanders in 2009-10, evidence of a hitter in decline. It got to a point where former manager Terry Francona had no choice but to sit Ortiz or pinch hit for him.
It became a point of contention between the two. Francona had to do what he felt was right for the team while Ortiz was upset the manager had lost faith in him.
There were a few days early that season where it seemed possible the Red Sox would release Ortiz. He was hitting .200/.274/.412 through May 12 and looked done. His legs were slow and his bat slower.
But Ortiz worked diligently to improve his approach against lefties, cutting down on his swing to drive the ball to all fields. He studied video and pounded the treadmill to get in better shape.
“Lefties are hittable, too. It all depends what your mindset is. They throw the ball right over the plate just like righties. You have to take what they give you,” Ortiz said.
Since the start of the 2011 season, Ortiz is hitting .339 against lefties.
Sunday was an example of how far Ortiz has come. He had a double to center off Moore in the second inning, a single to right field in the fourth, and an RBI double to center in the sixth that gave the Red Sox a 5-4 lead in a game they won, 6-4.
That’s three straight for the Sox, now only a game out of first.
The second double, off a 94-mph fastball, crashed into the wall in center field. It was Ortiz’s seventh hit in as many at-bats, the first time he has done that since 2007.
Ortiz is 16 of 36 (.444) on the season with seven extra-base hits and 10 RBIs.
“It’s awesome. He’s been having great swings all season,” Adrian Gonzalez said. “We’re really feeding off of him.”
Said manager Bobby Valentine: “I can’t tell if it’s a lefty or a righty. He has the same at-bat from the first inning to the ninth, regardless of who’s throwing, whether it’s soft or hard, in or out. It’s a determined at-bat. When you have that kind of determination, often you have some success and he’s been very successful.”
Valentine has been impressed with the Ortiz since the first day of spring training, noting that he arrived in good shape and wanting to take on more of a leadership role following last season’s collapse.
“The best way to lead is to come up in a big spot and produce,” Valentine said. “He’s done that the first 10 days, no doubt about that.”
The Sox have scored 31 runs in the first three games of the series, hitting seven home runs. They will try for the sweep Monday behind Daniel Bard.
At 36, Ortiz is a well-paid anomaly. Instead of using one player as their primary DH, many teams are rotating different players at the position or using low-cost veterans. But for the Red Sox, the old way still works. Big Papi is still Big Papi.
“Like a bottle of wine, age is better for David,” Kevin Youkilis said. “We have the luxury on this team to have a guy like David. We need him in our lineup.”
Ortiz just laughs now when he hears speculation that his career is coming to an end.
“I don’t really care what anybody says or what anybody tries to put in my head,” he said. “I just go about my business day by day and try and try my best and let things happen.”