David Ortiz gets rare start in field

PHILADELPHIA -- Adrian Gonzalez volunteered to sit out Sunday's game in Pittsburgh, according to Red Sox manager Terry Francona, to give David Ortiz a chance to start a game against the Pirates.

Francona declined. "He's the best hitter in baseball," the manager said Wednesday.

But with the Red Sox at the midway point of their nine-game excursion of National League parks, Francona elected Wednesday to deploy Gonzalez in right field and Ortiz at first base, a move that he contended he has been reluctant to make. The timing of it suggested this was probably a plan on the table all along.

It didn't work. Big Papi was 0-for-4 in the Red Sox's 2-1 loss to the Phillies.

"To be honest with you, I was just thinking about defending myself out there," Ortiz said with a chuckle. "They have tons of lefties to hit, and you don't want to be caught by a rocket hit right at you.

"I came out alive. That's a good thing."

Ortiz said he spoke with Ryan Howard, the Phillies' slugging first baseman.

"I had a little chat with him before the game," Ortiz said. "I told him, 'I got a family, waiting for me at home.' He said, 'All right, Papi, we'll try to stay away from that.'"

Ortiz said he won't be in the lineup Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox had been concerned about Gonzalez getting hurt playing out of position in right. He wasn't required to make a single catch, though he made a leaping attempt at Chase Utley's triple in the eighth, after manager Terry Francona said Gonzalez had assured him he wouldn't go all Ichiro (Suzuki) on him and go over the wall after a ball (he didn't).

Entering Wednesday, Gonzalez had played one game in the outfield in his big league career, on Sept. 30, 2005, for the Texas Rangers, who had Mark Teixeira at first base and installed Gonzalez in right. The Rangers were playing the Angels that day, and the starting pitcher for Anaheim was John Lackey, who Wednesday night pitched for the Red Sox.

Gonzalez had three outfield putouts in that game, and was charged with an error when he mishandled a ground-ball single. He also played outfield in winter ball that year, as the Rangers explored ways to get Gonzalez and Teixeira in the lineup at the same time. But Texas traded Gonzalez to San Diego, where he became a Gold Glove first baseman.

Gonzalez insisted Wednesday it was no big deal to play right field against the Phillies.

"I'm not going to try to make an outstanding play," he said before the game. "I'm just going to catch the balls hit to me, keep the base hits in front, make sure I hit my cutoff man."

No crashing into walls and diving catches?

"I don't think many people crash into walls and dive after balls unless the opportunity calls for it," he said. "I'm just going to play the game. I think there are a lot of people who switch positions all the time and nobody makes a big deal out of it. It's just for a couple of days to get Papi in the lineup."

Francona said his desire to get Ortiz more at-bats overrode his concerns about the injury risk to Gonzalez playing out of position.

"I trust Gonzie," he said. "I think he's pretty mature about this. He's not going to be gung-ho, try to be Ichiro and jump over the wall. Hopefully it helps us win a game."

Moving a Gold Glover to right and installing a DH at first base weakens the club at two positions defensively, which also fed into Francona's reluctance to make the move, he said.

"It's not perfect," he said. "It can't be. Not playing David is not perfect, and our defensive alignment is not perfect, either."

Gonzalez puts little stock in the injury risk.

"I think we could have done it in Pittsburgh," he said, "but there was always a fear from Tito and management of the possibility of getting hurt. I keep telling them if you have a fear of getting hurt then we might as well not play. Anybody can get hurt out there. Anybody who approaches the game with the mentality of getting hurt -- to go in that direction is just wrong."

After Tuesday's game, Ortiz confirmed he was playing first and pledged to hit a "bomb." He also boasted that he still had "golden hands."

Francona said he's not so sure.

"I'm worried about David," he said. "It looks like he just pulled his glove out of the box. I picked up his glove yesterday and almost cut myself."

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.