David Ortiz and the Long Road Back
Heck, who's to even say he is all the way back?
Big Papi has had a good couple of weeks this June, but we've got a much larger sample of at-bats that say he's a significantly diminished hitter. (Of course, there's an even larger sample that makes what seemed like a sudden and sharp decline so difficult to comprehend.)
Terry Francona has slid him back up the order in interleague play, hitting him fifth in all but one of the games he has started since June 12, but he's not back in the three-hole yet, the customary spot from which he has terrorized American League pitchers since 2005.
"I think he's gotten to the point where he understands what happened the first couple of months was very difficult," Francona said of Ortiz. "He doesn't feel like that hitter anymore."
That hitter Francona spoke of was hitting .185 at the end of May.
This hitter, the apparently rejuvenated Ortiz, is hitting .327 and has a 1.145 OPS and six home runs in June after going 2-for-3 and taking Washington starter Craig Stammen out to the very deepest part of Nationals Park, straightaway center field, in Boston's 6-4 win Wednesday night.
The three-run blast gave the slugger his 1,000th (and 1,001st and 1,002nd) RBI of his career.
Ortiz's resurgence has come during the heart of interleague play, which hasn't made things easy on Francona. The Red Sox face a unique challenge in NL parks when he is swinging a hot bat because they are forced to juggle playing time between Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis and Ortiz. Lowell is the best defender of the bunch, Youkilis has been the best hitter this year and Ortiz is the most imposing historically.
"The last thing I wanna do is get in David's way when he's getting hot," Francona said of his daily dilemma with the lineup card.
But it's a problem the Boston manager is accustomed to dealing with at this point, working for this front office, which hordes depth up and down the 25-man roster to an almost maniacal level, to say nothing of the minor leagues (hello, Clay Buchholz). And it's a problem most managers would probably love to have.
So, what about moving Ortiz back up the order if he continues to hit like the Big Papi of old?
Francona hasn't considered it, and you get the feeling he won't for some time because Youkilis and Jason Bay are holding down the No. 3 and 4 spots in his order so well.
"We got a good thing going right now," Francona said, alluding to his current 3-4 combination.
"If we can get David Ortiz for the last couple of months [of the season], the first couple of months won't matter," he adds.
If the Red Sox get the Ortiz that was an anchor in the middle of their order for two World Series titles, who is where in the lineup won't matter too much. And there won't be any catching Boston in the American League East either.