SEATTLE — The Red Sox’ offense centers around David Ortiz. He’s the tick on the clock, the beat of the heart.
The Sox offense seems to go the way he goes. Ortiz has picked up his production lately, and that could be a sign of a pending lineup surge.
In a 4-2 win over the Mariners on Saturday night, Ortiz reached base three times with a walk, home run, and a single off Felix Hernandez. His fifth homer of the season, a solo shot in the third, broke a 1-1 tie.
Ortiz is now 15 for 38 (.395) with two homers against Hernandez in his career.
Why does he hit King Felix so well?
“He does something against me that no other pitcher does,” Ortiz said.
“I’ll tell you when I retire,” Ortiz said with a smile.
While there’s a lot of pressure for a 39-year-old DH to ramp up the offense, that’s the way it is. As the Sox offense has struggled, so has Ortiz. He knows it’s on his shoulders.
“I know that’s the way it is. I’ve always felt that way,” Ortiz said. “I take responsibility for everyone. When the focus is on me, it takes the pressure off everyone else, but I think it’s coming along. I’ve been hitting the ball hard sometimes at people, but I’m trying to hit the ball where it’s pitched, not trying to do too much, and get back into a good swing.
“I know one thing about myself: When I try to overdo, it doesn’t happen for me. I’m trying to get into my own head and try to get my swing compact and go from there.”
He has been trying to hit the ball the other way in batting practice so that in games he can beat the shifts that eat him up. He was able to beat it with a sharp single to right-center Friday night off lefthander J.A. Happ. Ortiz went 2 for 4 in Friday’s 2-1 loss, adding a single to center off Tom Wilhelmsen to lead off the ninth.
“I’m trying to use the whole field,” Ortiz said. “It’s been a little tough lately because they’ve been pitching me in lately because they know I haven’t been turning on them. But I’ve been on the pitches away.”
Ortiz is hitting .236 and slugging a career-low .402. He thinks it’s important to start getting on base when he’s not in RBI situations, but in those RBI situations he feels he’s been a bit overanxious trying to make something happen.
“I’ll be all right,” Ortiz said. “It’s a fight, man. If you’re hitting .360, even on a bad swing you’re getting results. It’s different when you’re hitting .220 because the pitcher feels better and more confident going up against a guy hitting .220, so he pitches better.
“The big thing for me is not to get frustrated. When I get frustrated, it makes things worse. You have to be able to handle frustration in this business because all the balls you hit you should be rewarded for and they get caught, that can drive you crazy. And that’s not good. You have to let those things go and concentrate on every at-bat.”
The two hits Friday were even more encouraging for Ortiz, who, after striking out Saturday against Joe Beimel, is hitting .140 (6 for 43) vs. lefthanders this season. Ortiz doesn’t feel he’s lapsing into bad habits, but that his struggles are just part of his overall malaise to start the season.
“I think I just have to be more patient against lefties. They’re pitching me tough, I can’t deny that, but when I get my swing down that will change,’’ he said. “I think it was encouraging to get a couple of hits against a tough lefty like Happ. He’s pitched really good this year. He’s a better pitcher now than he was in Toronto.”
Ortiz originally was signed by the Mariners and never lets them forget they made a mistake in trading him to the Twins for Dave Hollins in 1996.
Ortiz has reached base safely via hit or walk in 49 of 51 career starts at Safeco Field while playing with Boston. He’s reached base safely in each of his last 31 road games against Seattle dating to August 2007 — the second-longest active on-base streak among visiting players at any current ballpark (at the top is Torii Hunter: 35 games at Camden Yards).
“I know people say this is a big ballpark and it’s not good for hitters, but I like hitting here,’’ Ortiz said. “There’s a lot of space out there where you can hit safely and the ball can drop in. It’s a good place to hit if you’re in a slump.”
That hasn’t held true for some of Ortiz’s teammates. The Red Sox have scored only 11 runs in the last five games but have won three of those because of good starting pitching.
“[Clay] Buchholz pitched great,” Ortiz said of the skinny righthander’s 11-strikeout, eight-inning performance Friday. “It’s a shame we couldn’t get him a win. He deserved it the way he went out there and competed. That’s a good lineup and he held them down.”
Ortiz was supportive of manager John Farrell for admitting he made a mistake in pitching to Nelson Cruz, who delivered the winning hit in the ninth.
Ortiz didn’t know Farrell had volunteered a mea culpa to the media before anyone even asked a question.
“He manned up,” Ortiz said. “He admitted he made a mistake right there, so what else? What else can you ask? I thought about it myself. I looked up at the scoreboard and saw [Cruz] had three punchouts. It wasn’t [Farrell’s] best night, but it happens to everyone.”
Cruz is the slugger Ortiz recommended the Sox sign two offseasons ago. Cruz hit 40 homers last season, a year after he was suspended 50 games for testing positive for PED use.
Cruz went into Saturday’s game as the league leader in homers (15), RBIs (30), batting (.358), and slugging (.730), but the Sox held him to 0 for 4.
But Cruz has been on a rampage, the type that Ortiz knows he has to get on soon so others in the lineup can follow suit.
It all starts with Ortiz.