Red Sox need Big Papi’s offense to come around

Posted April 25, 2009, at 1 a.m.

It’s the Sox and the Yanks again, round one.

The spotlight constantly changes from player to player in this series as the year rolls on. For this weekend much will be said of David Ortiz as he seeks to get the bat going.

Ortiz starts the series with a .220 average, 4 doubles, a triple, no home runs, 6 walks and 16 strikeouts. It is the longest no homer start for Ortiz with the Red Sox.

He is using the Green Monster to garner hits of late, but the long ball would squelch a lot of skeptics about the 33-year-old’s offensive game.

Ortiz said before the start of the series, “You just got to keep on playing and swinging and let things happen.”

Boston hitting coach Dave Madigan told me last week he thinks it’s just more of the early-season, finding-a-rhythm thing.

“Same old stuff,” said Madigan. “It takes time each year for hitters to find their comfort zone at the plate.”

Madigan thinks Ortiz is cocking his hands too late before the swing and that makes him late on fast balls. “That is correctable,” said Madigan.

That may be one reason Ortiz has been hitting to left recently. Taking the ball that way cuts down on his swing rather than hurrying to pull pitches. That will let him get comfortable at the plate and speed his swing up while still getting some hits in the process.

The folks at ESPN came up with some numbers on Ortiz. His strikeouts occur in 24 percent of his plate appearances this year compared to 16 percent last year. Ortiz is chasing pitches out of the strike zone 28 percent of the time this year, up from 19 percent last year.

Those chasing numbers could be evidence of the frustration of not hitting the ball the way he wants to and pressing to do more.

His slugging percentage on fast balls is down from .843 last year to .576 now.

Pitchers are challenging Ortiz with inside heaters. 41 percent of the pitches he has seen this year are fastballs inside and his average on those pitches is .227.

Last year 35 percent of pitches were inside heat and he hit .283. In 2007 those numbers were 31 percent and a .371 average.

Those declines in average are about getting around on pitches that jam Ortiz. The problem again lends itself to some inside out swings that take the ball to left and just maybe a long ball into the monster seats.

Up and in is the place the Yankee throwers will be looking at when Ortiz is up this weekend. We’ll see how Ortiz adjusts to this.

Ortiz has shown no signs of being bothered by his start other than the frustration of wanting to do more.

A good weekend for Ortiz against the Yankees will end the worries of Sox fans about his numbers, but even if that doesn’t happen, there are a lot more at bats to come.

However, if those ABs reach the 75 mark and the hits still aren’t coming, there will be genuine cause for concern.

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