FORT MYERS, Fla. — There is still bad blood between David Ortiz and Bobby Valentine, and everyone here, including Ortiz, is looking forward to a fresh start with John Farrell. But Ortiz, who thinks his sore Achilles’ tendon will be ready to go by Opening Day, has other pressures to deal with.
At age 37, he remains the centerpiece of the Red Sox lineup.
With that comes this very large question: Who will protect Ortiz in the lineup?
It seemed to be the one area the team did not address this offseason. For years, Ortiz had Manny Ramirez. Even lately, he has had Adrian Gonzalez and/or Kevin Youkilis. Now? Mike Napoli or Will Middlebrooks could be hitting behind him.
Napoli has never been a middle-of-the-order impact hitter. While he can hit home runs, he is not such a force that pitchers will be giving Ortiz good pitches to hit. Ortiz is going to end up walking a lot.
Which is why the Red Sox missed the boat by not getting a Josh Hamilton for the middle of the order. And why they still appear to be searching for such a player, with Giancarlo Stanton being the target.
When I posed the question to Ortiz, he didn’t deny that it would be an issue, but he didn’t want to say publicly that the front office didn’t get the hitter it needed to protect him.
Middlebrooks could change the situation with a big year, but in his second season, he is going to see more sliders and offspeed pitches than he’s ever seen in his life.
Asked if the Sox got him enough help, Ortiz said for the camera, “I think they did a good job. It always can be better. Sometimes it’s not what you want and it is what it is. If you look at the market this offseason, there wasn’t much you could possibly get. It wasn’t anything crazy out there.
“They went out and got some good players. We need to get back in and play way better than what we did last year.”
All great teams seem to have that second prime-time hitter. The Tigers have Prince Fielder with Miguel Cabrera. The Angels now have Hamilton with Albert Pujols.
“There’s no question you need protection,” Ortiz said. “We’ll see what happens. We have good hitters. Good lineup.”
Before moving forward, Ortiz got in some shots at Valentine, saying the former manager “did things I’d never seen in the game before.”
“An organization and a team is like the human body,” said Ortiz. “If the head is right, the body is going to function right. But if the head is mixed up, they’re going to be all over the place. That was part of our situation last year. Guys weren’t comfortable with the manager we had.
“The first move our organization did was go and try to fix that. I’m pretty sure we’re looking at that as a positive move. It’s like a fresh start. Pretty sure a lot of guys are comfortable with a manager like John [Farrell]. We’re going to get back to the basics.”
Ortiz was one of the few players who publicly supported Valentine, but at the end of last season, Valentine made the comment that once the Sox were out of contention, Ortiz “decided not to play anymore.” Ortiz had suffered a setback with his heel and was advised to shut it down and rest the injury.
Asked what specifically he remembered about Valentine, Ortiz said, “Last year in spring training, just to give you an example. When we were doing workouts, I started seeing things I’ve never seen in baseball.
“I’ve been watching and playing baseball for a long time. I had question marks on things that I saw. Those question marks went into the season and you guys saw the disaster that happened.
“We were doing drills and game-changing things. For example, we practiced cutoff and relay throws coming from outfielders. The shortstop and second baseman have to go 2 feet from the outfielder to take the throw, and it gives the runner an extra step. The outfielder is watching the guys run.
“I didn’t think we got anyone out with that play. I saw guys hitting the cutoff man 20 feet away from the infield. Those are the things, I don’t think they get the games any better. That’s a different game I grew up watching. Little things that happened. Everybody has their reasons for doing that.”
Valentine’s reasoning was his outfielders had poor arms and he wanted the stronger-armed infielders making the throw.
Ortiz spent the offseason going back and forth between Boston and the Dominican Republic to get treatment on his heel.
“Not 100 percent yet, but I was pain-free doing it, which is a good sign,” he said. “Now the trainers start moving forward with things slowly, and tomorrow we’re going to continue doing the drills and stuff.
“The good thing is, it didn’t bother me at all. In the beginning, I was a little concerned, and later on I was going after it pretty normal. I didn’t have any setback or anything. I surprised myself.”
He wants to spend the final two years of his career with a winner. He hopes the fans will be patient, but he understands if they’re not.
“To be honest with you, I ran out of patience last year and I’m a player,” he said. “I can imagine the fans, where they’re at. They see what our offseason was like. We went out there and got some of the players to fill where we got hurt last year in those spots. We got our bullpen better. Our starting pitching is going to be better this year.
“As a player, you learn from your mistakes and when things are going bad.”
And, of course, Ortiz was asked about steroids and some players being linked with the clinic in Miami. Because he has been so productive late in his career, will people be suspicious of him?
“I don’t know,” he said. “First of all, when I first heard about that, I started saying, us as baseball players, we might be the dumbest athletes out of all the sports and it’s because there’s a history of players doing things like that and getting caught.
“All I can tell you is that I keep working hard and trying my best. I’m not going to do this for the rest of my life. At some point, enough is enough. As long as your name is not being mentioned in a situation like that, it’s OK.”Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.