FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox announced Sunday that they will shut down David Ortiz for 5-7 days to allow inflammation in both of his heels (not his strained Achilles’ tendon) to calm down, meaning Ortiz may not be ready to start the season.
That would leave the Sox’ lineup without its premier power hitter as the team plays its first 13 games of the season against American League East opponents.
Manager John Farrell told reporters in Port Charlotte, where the Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, 6-2, that after the rest period, the training staff will attempt to get Ortiz back on a running program and then into game action.
“[The MRIs] reveal some inflammation in the bony area of the heel,” Farrell said. “That’s where his discomfort is being felt. As a result, we’re going to shut him down for a few days here to let that quiet down completely before we initiate any kind of baseball activities.”
Farrell said he believes Ortiz is still making progress, and while still not ruling out Opening Day, he acknowledged the calendar is really working against the designated hitter.
“I mean, we’re three weeks away,” Farrell said. “He’s going to need at-bats. We’re not forgoing Opening Day right now. But we’re starting to get into an area where we’ve . . . depending on how many days we need to shut him down, that’s going to have a direct bearing on where we are come Opening Day.”
The inflammation, according to Farrell, is more in Ortiz’s left heel, the opposite side of where last season’s Achilles’ injury was, than in the right heel, in which Ortiz had some soreness a couple of years ago. Ortiz injured the Achilles’ July 16 while rounding second base on an Adrian Gonzalez home run. He was out until Aug. 24, when he reinjured it running the bases.
Ortiz was having one of the best seasons in baseball before the Achilles’ injury, with a whopping 1.026 OPS, and a .318 average with 23 homers and 60 RBIs in 90 games.
“It’s separate from any kind of previous issues that he dealt with,” Farrell said. “It’s in the bone/tendon juncture where he’s feeling the inflammation, and the MRI shows it in that specific area. He’s feeling it in both. But that’s why we did the MRI on both heels. It’s specific to that tendon connection on his left and he’s feeling it on his right. But more than anything, it’s been able to isolate it to that spot and not feel it on the Achilles’.”
If he’s sidelined to start the season, Ortiz likely would stay in Fort Myers to get at-bats in minor league games and rejoin the team whenever he felt he was ready.
Since the Sox did not obtain another impact bat this offseason, Ortiz remains the major piece in the lineup.
One American League scout predicted, “It’s just not going to be easy without him because there are so many hitters in that lineup who can be pitched to. He’s the one guy you’re afraid of in that lineup. You know if you make a mistake, he’ll hit it out of the park. And the fact he can hit lefthanders so well, now makes it really tough on the Red Sox if they don’t have him for a while.”
The Sox would have to rely on Will Middlebrooks, Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Jonny Gomes for their power if Ortiz is out.
They could use Saltalamacchia as the primary DH and allow David Ross and Ryan Lavarnway to split catching duties, or they could use Gomes as the DH, which would allow a better defensive outfielder, such as Ryan Sweeney or Daniel Nava, to play left field.
Other options would be to inject a sparkplug like Pedro Ciriaco into the lineup, or to keep Lyle Overbay and/or Mike Carp as DH options. Mauro Gomez also could be considered. It doesn’t appear the team would go out and obtain a DH type such as Vladimir Guerrero or Jim Thome to fill in on a temporary basis.
Ortiz, who signed a two-year, $26 million contract in November, wouldn’t address reporters on two occasions Sunday as he lifted weights while waiting for the MRI results to come in.
Ortiz spent 3½ hours in an MRI machine Saturday. The images were sent to Boston, where they were compared with other images of the heels taken in 2010 and 2011.
Ortiz has said all along that his Achilles’ tendon is structurally sound, and there was no major tear in the Achilles’. But the soreness in that heel has not subsided. He’s been assured by team trainers and physical therapists that the soreness will go away. Ortiz has mentioned that there’s some calcification that has contributed to the soreness.
Ortiz, 37, has not been able to sustain a running regimen since he arrived at camp. He has been aggressive on the basepaths on any given day, but on other days he’s had to shut it down.
And now it doesn’t appear Ortiz is going to rush it, concerned that if he does his career might be in jeopardy.
He’s been advised by other players who have gone through Achilles’ issues that he should take things slowly. Just a week ago, Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, who suffered a rupture of his Achilles’, advised Ortiz not to succumb to the pressures of the media and fan base to play right away.
Ortiz said earlier in camp that he was expecting pressure to get back on the field as quickly as possible. He knew the topic would come up, but he’s tried to ignore any criticism of his recovery process and go at his own pace.
Management appears to be on the same page as Ortiz, OK with a late start to the season if it means Ortiz will be available for the larger part of the campaign.
“I think any time we can give some assurance that there’s no reinjury, there’s no further damage of any kind, yeah, that’s got to give some peace of mind,” Farrell said. “Yet the frustration exists because of not being on the field.”