Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz played in only one game after July 16th last year because of an injury to his heel. He recently announced that he is still not fully healthy but expects to be ready to start the season.
Ortiz told WEEI’s Rob Bradford that “I’m not completely recovered, but I’m going to be ready to go for Opening Day.”
Other than the right Achilles being identified as the affected area, little is known about the full extent of his injury. Even with his announced intentions, Boston and its fans should be wary about Ortiz and his ability to play until he can prove he is healthy.
Having a productive Ortiz available will be a must if the Red Sox have plans to contend in 2013.
When he dropped to a .238 batting average in 2009, it was assumed that the left-handed slugger was on the downside of his career. However, he has reinvented himself since then, and remains a highly productive hitter despite being 37.
Because of the injury, Ortiz only appeared in 90 games last season. But he was the team’s best hitter when he played, batting .318 with 23 home runs, 60 RBI and a 1.026 OPS.
A major reason for Ortiz’s late-career resurgence has been his marked improvement against left-handed pitchers. He hit a modest .260 against southpaws during the first 14 years of his major league career, but that mark has jumped to a combined .312 during the past two seasons.
Should the Red Sox be concerned about Ortiz's injury?
A veteran of 10 seasons with Boston, Ortiz was rewarded with a two-year, $26 million contract this offseason, with incentives that could make the deal worth as much as $30 million.
Bradford reported that the possible incentives in Ortiz’s new contract are all related to his health and how much time he spends on the disabled list. If he remains completely healthy, he will earn the full $30 million, but that will incrementally decrease if he misses significant stretches of time.
MLB.com’s Evan Drellich quoted an MLB Network Radio interview where Boston general manager Ben Cherington spoke of his optimism that Ortiz will be ready and fully operational by the start of the season:
He's hitting and doing his agility and starting to run. He's David Ortiz. We'll see where he is as we report 10 days from now or so and take it from there. We don't have any reason to think he won't be in our lineup on Opening Day.
Although he indicated he may ease into spring training activity, Ortiz was also optimistic about his return when speaking with Bradford:
It all depends what the doctors say. They say I’m going to have my days I’m not going to feel that well. I haven’t had those yet, but I haven’t started the hard stuff. But the one thing I can tell you is I’m going to do the agility drills without any pain, which I wasn’t able to do before, so that’s a good thing. When I was injured those used to cause me a lot of pain, and I don’t have any pain when I do them now.
Ortiz is as important a player as anyone on the Red Sox roster. For the best chance at a successful 2013 season, Boston will need his bat in the middle of the lineup. With spring training about to start, there should be a great deal of trepidation until he can get on the field and ease fears about his lingering injury.
Statistics via BaseballReference