The start of the 2010 MLB season looked like it would be the swan song for the troubled Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. Big Papi looked like Big Sloppy as he started out the season pretty much as bad as a player with a $13 million salary who is expected to hit home runs, could start a season. Ortiz’s batting average was anemic and it looked like he no longer had the bat speed to catch up to a 90 mph fastball, a pitch that used to put food on the table for Ortiz. As Ortiz struggled, the Boston Red Sox struggled with him. Red Sox manager Terry Francona did his best to show loyalty to the struggling slugger, but even Francona couldn’t justify starting the once every day player Ortiz against a lefty. Francona also tried to juggle the lineup to fit Ortiz in, and had him batting in the fifth spot, but Ortiz couldn’t produce, and whiff show at fastball after fastball continued. It almost became comical, a once feared wheelhouse, was disrespected time and time again by any pitcher who could wind it up to the high eighties.
The decline of David Ortiz didn’t start this year. You hate to say it, but ever since Manny Ramirez left, Ortiz hasn’t been the feared and clutch hitter he once was. Then came the allegations of steroid use, which always seem to surface when a hitter is at his weakest point and Ortiz continued to backslide. If not for a late power surge at the end of last season I question whether Ortiz would have still been with the Red Sox this year. Red Sox fans are great, but they’re used to hitting and their used to winning, the pressure to win and beat the Yankees means anyone not producing could be on the slab, Ortiz is no exception.
So just when it looked like Ortiz was dunzo, the month of May came around and Ortiz seemed to get a little bit of his swagger back. Ortiz has belted 8 of his 9 homeruns on the season in the month of May and has raised his average to a barely respectable .258. Francona has placed him batting in the three hole and Ortiz is one of the hottest hitter going right now. Red Sox fans have to be hoping that the David Ortiz they used to know is back, I’m not so certain. Pitchers are still throwing him fastballs until he proves he’s not just on a hot streak and he can actually hit that pitch, I wonder what happens when he starts getting only the tough pitches, will he still be productive batting at that three spot? When something dies, sometimes it gives off one last surge of life, one last battle for existence before it disappears forever…How much life does Ortiz have left in him?
As for the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox, they seem to go as Ortiz goes. In the last two games against the division leading Tampa Bay Rays, Ortiz went 2-4 with a solo home run and 1-3 with a two run double as Boston has taken both games from the Rays. The Red Sox and Ortiz still have a lot of work to do as they play catchup in American League East with a record of 26-21, the Red Sox sit 6.5 games behind the Rays. Can Ortiz return to his old hall of fame caliber form? I’m not sure that’s a bet I’d be willing to take.