Francona: Players aren't 'chess pieces'

Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona talked extensively Tuesday about designated hitter David Ortiz's slow start, acknowledging his slugger's frustration and explaining why he believes it's important to keep him in the lineup on a consistent basis for now.

After struggling mightily the first two months of last season, Ortiz is off to another slow start in 2010. He is hitting .136 (3-for-22) with just 2 RBIs and 11 strikeouts. He has missed on 44 percent of his swings this season, more than double the league average of 20 percent.

With each passing game, Ortiz is faced with more scrutiny from fans and media as comparisons to last season mount.

"I think he's frustrated," Francona said Tuesday during his weekly interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI. "... Until he really starts swinging like he can, he's probably going to have to deal with [questions from the media], and I'm going to have to deal with it and we're all going to deal with it. Because we went through this last year, and because of where we play, it's there. And there's no getting around it."

Some have already started to call for Ortiz's role to decrease in favor of Mike Lowell, the former starting third baseman whom the Red Sox tried to trade in the offseason.

Francona, who gave Ortiz plenty of rope to work his way out of his slump last season, indicated to WEEI that he didn't think it was a good idea to give up on Ortiz this early, stressing that the "human element" of lineup choices plays into his thinking.

"I don't know if anybody has the exact right answer," Francona said. "But until you do ... as a manager you better err on the side of caution. Because you can't just treat these guys like chess pieces. I don't think that works. There's a human element to this, and probably a lot more than people realize. And sometimes we struggle.

"If we struggle as a team, we'll get ourselves straightened out as a team. And that's how I guess I've always felt about it. If you're going to make a change, you'd better damn well be sure you're right. And that's what we've always tried to do."

Francona preached patience when asked about the possibility of platooning Ortiz so he faces only right-handed pitchers.

"I'd prefer not to [platoon]," Francona said. "And again, I think it's too early to talk like that. David's been such a mainstay for us both versus lefties and righties. And I think if you talk to any hitter, for them to succeed against one type, they almost need to face the other side also. A lefty makes a guy stay in there. Now, I understand at some point there needs to be production."

Francona also acknowledged that any problem this early in the season is going to be overstated because of the small sample size involved.

"These are things that get magnified in the early season that we always talk about at the end of spring, and then when it happens, it still seems to throw people for a loop even though we know we're probably going to go through it," Francona said. "So, now we just have to live through it and get ourselves into a routine, and get into the grind of the season, and these things will take care of themselves."