NEW YORK — David Ortiz looked to his right on Monday afternoon at Citi Field and saw Dustin Pedroia and Clay Buchholz being interviewed by groups of reporters.
“This year,” the Red Sox designated hitter said, “I can take a team photo. Last year I was all by myself and I didn’t take any pictures.”
Ortiz went to the All-Star Game alone last season when it was held in Kansas City. Nobody else from the depleted and demoralized Red Sox was deemed worthy of an invitation.
Now Ortiz is among friends and that has made his ninth All-Star Game a more enjoyable experience.
“Last year was kind of boring,” he said. “This year we were joking around on the airplane, me, [Pedroia], and Buch. Having my boys together is great.”
Ortiz will bat sixth for the American League Tuesday, exactly one year after he partially tore his right Achilles’ tendon and missed all but one game the rest of the season.
He started this season on the disabled list and missed the first 16 games. Since returning, Ortiz has hit .317 with 19 home runs and 65 RBIs. His 1.008 OPS is the third highest in baseball, trailing only Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis.
The 58-39 Red Sox have the best record in the AL and the highest-scoring offense in baseball with Ortiz hitting cleanup.
“Since he came back he’s been a force,” Pedroia said. “Every at-bat it seems like he’s hitting the ball on the barrel. He’s either driving it out of the ballpark or hitting it in the gap. He’s running good, too. He’s a huge reason why our offense has been so great all year.”
Ortiz has walked 42 times and struck out 43 times, a testament to his discipline at the plate. At 37, he is having one of the best seasons of his career.
“He might be getting better as a hitter when you look at his approach,” Cabrera said. “I have so much respect for that man. When you talk to him about hitting, he educates you.”
Tigers righthander Justin Verlander, who made his debut in 2005, has watched Ortiz change over the years.
“He’s matured on the mental side of the game,’’ Verlander said. “He’s always been extremely talented but as you get older you need to get smarter and he’s done that.”
“I don’t think he gets enough credit for his approach at the plate. He’s a tough out because he lays off tough pitches. He doesn’t expand [the strike zone] too often. When he gets his pitch, he hits it hard.”
Ortiz struggled against lefthanders in 2010 but worked diligently on taking pitches the other way. Former teammate Adrian Gonzalez helped in that regard, counseling Ortiz to cut down his swing and take what the pitcher will give him.
Ortiz has hit .309 against lefties the last three seasons with 22 home runs.
“He’s a tough at-bat,” said All-Star lefthander Matt Moore of the Rays. “It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking. You think he’s thinking pull and he hits a ball off the [Green] Monster. You think he’s thinking away and he pulls a ball in the bullpen.
“You try limit pitches in the zone and mix up speeds and things like that.”
Ortiz is 5 for 10 against Moore with a home run.
“It can get frustrating, too,” Moore said. “He’ll take his walks. He’s not a selfish player at all. If it’s not there, he’s not going to swing to get another pitch. He doesn’t do anything to take him out of what makes him successful.”
Pedroia said the average fan doesn’t realize the amount of time Ortiz puts in behind the scenes studying pitchers and preparing for his four or five at-bats a night.
“When you’re smart and you have ability, that’s pretty dangerous. He’s been great for a long time. Even when he’s not feeling good, he’s walking or finding a way to drive in runs. There’s a process at the plate. I’ve learned so much from him over the years,” he said.
Because the All-Star Game determines home-field advantage in the World Series, Ortiz hopes to get a few at-bats and make a difference.
“Maybe it will help us,” he said. “It would be nice to start the Series at Fenway, right?”