ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It’s official: David Ortiz’s slump was not because of Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy asking Ortiz whether he was on steroids.
Ortiz revealed he has a sore left oblique, which he’s been dealing with as far back as the Texas series in Arlington, which would mean he had the injury before Shaughnessy wrote the controversial column.
Ortiz laughed and said, “It had nothing to do with that article. I’ve had this problem for a while now and it’s something that affected my swing for a while.”
Ortiz snapped an 0-for-17 slump Saturday vs. Toronto after a 15-game hitting streak to start the season (27 games overall). After that hot start, Shaughnessy questioned Ortiz on whether he was taking anything. It created a firestorm and nasty comments by Ortiz to Shaughnessy last Saturday when Ortiz spotted him in the clubhouse at Fenway Park.
Ortiz first mentioned the injury to ESPNDeportes before Tuesday night’s game against the Rays. In the first inning, Ortiz blasted a three-run homer off Tampa Bay lefthander Matt Moore. It was the only offense the Red Sox had the entire night in a 5-3 loss.
One wondered how injured Ortiz was to be able to crush a ball that hard.
After the game, when asked if the oblique was still bothering him, he said, “A little bit. Just tightness in the left oblique. It wasn’t grabbing me that much but still grabbing me a little bit. Hopefully it doesn’t get any worse.”
Ortiz said that after taking Sunday off and the offday Monday, he came out in batting practice and tried to let loose and he found the oblique wasn’t hurting him. But during the game, he did feel it on certain swings.
Ortiz said he hurt it on a full swing during the final game in Texas May 5. The Sox and Ortiz have kept things quiet until now.
Ortiz doesn’t think he should sit out.
“Yeah, I’m gonna keep on playing,” he said. “It’s not at the point where it’s getting worse. Hopefully it doesn’t get any worse. It bothers me on some swings that I take. Last week I was watching some balls on video that I was pulling, and when you’re trying to hit the ball the other way, you’re hooking the ball and that’s not normal. Hopefully it gets better.”
Asked again whether he’d be better off not playing, he said, “What do you think? You have to play. I’ve had enough time off. It’s not at the point where I’m pulling it. If I pull it, I won’t be able to play. I just come in and do my therapy.”
Tuesday night Ortiz had ice packs around both of his heels, but not around his side.
We have mentioned before if the Sox can’t keep Ortiz healthy, they’re in for a long summer.
As the offense continues to struggle in May (the Sox are 4-9 in the month), especially with runners in scoring position, it becomes imperative that Ortiz remains upright. But one wonders if the injury bug will hit him hard now that he’s 37 years old?
His side and his heels are important body parts when he’s trying to generate power. Ortiz didn’t have any problem against Moore in the first inning, but on his third at-bat, you could see him hold his side.
“We’ve been struggling offensively, so hopefully things get better and move forward,” he said.
“We’ve seen the last couple of years that when we go in a funk it’s pretty much everybody, just like when we go well, everybody plays well. If you can get a couple of guys hot, it’s not so bad. But now it’s pretty much everybody who is struggling. The pitchers are doing a hell of a job . . . offensively we need to get better.”
Ortiz said he “got lucky, I guess” on the home run off Moore, who, he said “has improved, to be honest with you. He still has a location problem. You have to make him throw quality pitches and he doesn’t overthrow like he used to. He’s pounding the strike zone better. He’s got a good arm.”
The Sox’ 3-0 lead was a good start, but, “You have to keep battling until the last out,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz said that the scouting report covered the topic of the Tropicana Field roof. In the fourth inning, first baseman Mike Napoli lost a ball in the roof, allowing two Tampa Bay runs to score.
“When we were going through the scouting report we were talking about that,” Ortiz said. “As much as I have played here, it doesn’t happen here often like it used to happen at the Metrodome. But it happens. [You’re] probably asking that to the wrong guy because I can’t play defense. I haven’t played first for so long and I don’t like fly balls, either.”
Ortiz probably won’t play first when interleague play starts May 29 at Philadelphia. The Sox will want to keep Ortiz off the field.
And because they don’t want Napoli to catch, it appears Napoli will start at first base.
That is just as well for Ortiz, who is trying to get through the season without another stint on the disabled list.
The Sox know they’re going to have to manage Ortiz’s physical condition and give him proper rest. But when the team is going this bad, it’s hard to tell your best hitter to take a seat.
Did we really think that one newspaper column would send a grizzled veteran into a slump? How fragile would Ortiz have to be mentally for that to happen? So Tuesday he let the cat out of the bag. He’s slumping not because of what someone wrote, but because his left side is hurting. That we can accept.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.