MINNEAPOLIS — Mike Napoli found his swing suddenly. Now it’s David Ortiz’s turn.
As we’ve often written, the Red Sox’ offense is centered around Ortiz. His success likely will lead to the success of the entire lineup. At age 39, he’s still that important. The centerpiece.
The fact he was penciled in the No. 5 spot on Tuesday night against the Twins, the first time he’d been that low in the batting order since May 6, 2012, vs. Baltimore, was an indication of just how bad things have been going for him.
Asked about being dropped in the order, Ortiz said, “I’m swinging like [expletive]. Once I figure things out, I’ll go back to third, right?”
Ortiz normally rakes at Target Field (.475 with 23 RBIs in 15 games entering Tuesday), but he went 0 for 4 Monday and was in an 0-for-15 slump. He was 6 for 56 (.107) vs. lefthanders. From 2008-10, Ortiz hit .218 vs. lefties, but from 2011-14 he hit .293 against them.
Ortiz went 1 for 4 in the Red Sox’ 2-1 loss to the Twins Tuesday night. His double in the second inning was misplayed by leftfielder Eduardo Escobar.
Where Ortiz’s slump has really shown up and hurt the team is with runners in scoring position (.135). He’s also hitting .163 on the road and .102 against relievers.
Ortiz has made adjustments before. He claims every season he’s had to adjust to something.
Ortiz spoke while watching the MLB Network on the clubhouse television. He looked up and saw Bartolo Colon getting a base hit and quipped, “If Bartolo Colon can get a hit, I can get a hit.”
“I’ll be fine, hopefully,” Ortiz added. “The worst-case scenario is I’ll keep swinging like I am, right?’’
Ortiz said his problems are more related to identifying the right pitches to hit rather than something mechanical in his swing. Napoli’s issue was just the opposite. He found he simply wasn’t prepared to hit because his mechanics were messed up.
“[Pitchers] do it every year, but I just try not to stay in this funk very long,” said Ortiz. “They pitch me tough always. I just try to find a way to figure things out. Nobody said this was going to be easy. Even when I’m at my best as a hitter it’s not easy. You can be on top and all of sudden you’re on the bottom. I have to find a way to swim to the top, and I’m not a very good swimmer.
“My problem is not mechanical or anything. I’m pretty much getting the bastard pitch a lot. Pitchers are my No. 1 enemy. I’m running out of patience a little bit, which happens when I’m not my best. I’ve got to go back to being patient and swinging at a pitch that I can drive. I’m not swinging at bad pitches, but I’m not swinging at pitches that I can drive.”
He’s been down this road before. And usually, he does come out of it. What’s been somewhat alarming is that he’s hitting .176 on fastballs. His average against the heat has gone down each of the last three years.
A sign of Father Time catching up? Or it could merely be that he’s not hitting well, period, and a good fastball will get him out.
“That’s the game,” Ortiz said. “When guys around this room watch a guy like myself, they learn from it. Pretty sure a lot of the guys here are like, ‘What’s going on with Papi?’ I see a lot of them worry about me. Because when my teammates struggle, I do the same thing. Sometimes it’s good that it happens so the guys know this is a game where you have to put everything into it every day so you can stay consistent.”
How tough a stretch has this been for Ortiz? And is it tough to be dropped in the order?
“It’s not tough at all,” he said. “It happened to me before. It wasn’t that nice. Seventh or eighth or something like that. It doesn’t matter where they put me. I have to get things down and be consistent. It’s going to happen at some point.”
That’s what everybody says. Napoli isn’t worried about it.
“He’s a Hall of Famer. I know he’s going to hit. He always has,” Napoli said.
Manager John Farrell, except for dropping Ortiz in the order, doesn’t plan on abandoning his best overall hitter. He will stick with him in good times and in bad.
“When I’m swinging the bat well, I’m solid. I’m working. Hopefully it happens at some point. That’s all I can do now,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz needs a breakout game. A breakout week. He needs to find the magic fix he’s been able to go get at the toughest times. And it needs to happen to soon.
The Red Sox need their best hitter to be their best hitter.
They need Big Papi to win with walkoff homers. To do the things he’s always done. Every team needs that feared hitter in the middle of the order, the one who can win a game with one swing.
“That’s what I’m trying to get back to,” Ortiz said. “It’s been a struggle.”