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Wednesday, February 23, 2011
David Ortiz lined up for success

By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- While Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona claims publicly that it's too early to even think about potential regular-season lineups, it's a safe bet that there have been some serious internal discussions about the batting order.

The potential lineup was a hot topic during the winter after the acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.

With Gonzalez and Crawford along with Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury likely to hit at the top of the order, designated hitter David Ortiz presumably will move down a few spots.

David Ortiz
With the big bats the Red Sox added this offseason, David Ortiz could hit as low as sixth.

"That doesn't depend on me," Ortiz said Wednesday. "It all depends on what the manager wants to do. At one point during the season, you kind of let people know where you need to be hitting at. For a run producer, you're always in the middle of the lineup. I know things are going to go the way they're supposed to be. They control it, not me."

Ortiz has spent the majority of his time in Boston in the No. 3 hole. In 711 games (3,232 plate appearances), Ortiz has posted a .291 average with 190 homers and 612 RBIs. For most of those at-bats, he was protected by Manny Ramirez in the cleanup spot.

After Ramirez was sent packing in 2008 via a three-team trade, Ortiz was outspoken about needing another big bat in the Sox's lineup.

Now, Ortiz says he's comfortable with the state of the batting order.

"People always ask me about if [pitchers] are going to be thinking about me when it comes to facing the Red Sox," Ortiz said. "Pitchers think about everyone else, they just don't think about Papi. They know what Papi is capable of doing, but they think about everyone because everybody is pretty much dangerous in our lineup."

When batting in the fifth spot, Ortiz has a .283 career average with 66 homers and 227 RBIs in 336 games (1,382 PAs). He has hit sixth in 108 games (422 PAs) and has a .264 average with 19 homers and 57 RBIs. He's hit seventh in only 36 games (112 PAs) and posted a .315 average with five homers and 25 RBIs.

"This thing has been good the last few years, even not having Manny," Ortiz said. "We have guys who have taken their game to another level. Guys like Youk, [Adrian] Beltre last year and Pedroia. Those are guys people think about big-time when it comes to facing the Red Sox. Now with CC and Gonzo, this team just got even more dangerous."

If Francona decides to hit Crawford in the No. 2 spot behind leadoff man Ellsbury, Pedroia could be hitting fifth behind Youkilis (third) and Gonzalez (fourth).

There's also the possibility of having Crawford hit in the five-hole, followed by Ortiz. That would protect the slugger given Crawford's speed, and would wreak havoc on the shift opponents often use when Ortiz steps into the box.

Statistically, Pedroia and Crawford both have been at their best in the No. 2 slot, and their second-best spot is No. 3. They're at their least productive from the leadoff spot.

It will be interesting to see how the lineup shakes out, especially with Ortiz.

From the early morning hours until the late afternoons, you'll find Ortiz with a bat in his hands in one of the many batting cages at the player development complex.

While the rest of the players in camp were out on the fields participating in a variety of drills, Ortiz spent a good portion of Wednesday morning in the cage with Victor Rodriguez, Boston's minor league hitting coordinator.

Earlier this week Ortiz participated in fielding drills at first base, and he said he enjoys being part of the group, but he would rather focus on his hitting.

"I think sometimes I waste a lot of time working on defense out there when I don't really have to," he said. "This year I'm going to work more on my hitting instead of catching grounders out there. I'll come to the cage and do my thing. I don't really play defense, maybe two games a year."

After Oritz's lengthy morning session, when he hit off the curveball machine, he took live BP on the field, ate lunch and was back in the cage in the afternoon with Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan.

"He usually hits a lot," Magadan said. "Instead of doing the individual defensive work, he'll spend his time in the cage. He's a guy who usually swings a lot."

Watching Ortiz for the better part of the day, it's clear he's holding his hands lower and his stance is more upright. Ortiz said he actually dropped his hands into that position late last season, and it's been working.

"Someone came to me and said, 'Through the years a lot of us kind of lose bat speed.' I'm not saying I have lost bat speed. I feel good. I feel like my bat was going through the strike zone easier."

Ortiz continues to watch video of his at-bats and spends a lot of time during camp talking with the organization's hitting instructors.

"When he loads up, I want his hands close to his body," Magadan explained. "Whether his hands are high, low or whatever, as long as he has a pathway to the inside of the ball is all I care about. Guys kind of work their way into how they usually hit and where they feel comfortable. I don't put a whole lot into how they look right now."

When Grapefruit League action began last spring, Ortiz went 1-for-15 in his first few games, but those numbers mean nothing in the big picture. Both Ortiz and Magadan were happy with the slugger's at-bats.

Once the regular season started, however, those struggles continued through the first month of the season, and Ortiz finished April with a .143 average, one home run and only four RBIs. Unlike 2009, when Ortiz struggled in April and May, he was able to work out of last season's slump after the first month and finished the summer strong with a .270 average, 32 homers and 102 RBIs.

"What we really have to bear down on this year, with obviously the April, May and June he had two years ago, and the April he had last year, is don't assume that it'll eventually happen for you," Magadan said. "Be a little more aware of where we are as a team and what we need him to do from the first game of the season.

"Look to do damage early on, because look at the year he ended up having last season, and he basically didn't do much in April. As good as a year he had, it could have been that much better with any kind of production in April."

That's why you'll find Ortiz spending countless hours in the batting cage.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.