Everyone is well-aware of the season-long struggles of Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, whose numbers (.208-0-15), would be cause for grumblings even for a player such as Jason Varitek, who struggled heavily last season.
Manager Terry Francona benched Ortiz for Friday's series opener at the Seattle Mariners and said that Ortiz could sit for more than just the one game.
The benching follows Thursday afternoon's extra-inning affair against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, in which Ortiz went 0-for-7 which three strikeouts while tying Trot Nixon for the franchise record with 12 runners left on base.
For the Sox' game against the Mariners, J.D. Drew was moved up into the No. 3 spot in place of Ortiz. Francona always try to alternate batters in his lineup, left-right-left-right, as much as possible, and with the lefty Drew, Francona was able to keep his alternating batting order.
Last season, when Ortiz was on the disabled list for a wrist injury, Drew filled in predominantly in the No. 3 hole.
Everyone remembers the scorching month of June that Drew put up: .337/.462/.848 for a 1.310 OPS, 12 home runs, 21 extra base hits, 21 base on balls, and 27 RBI.
All of those numbers came from hitting in the No. 3 hole, and when Ortiz returned, Drew went back into his customary role in the bottom half of the lineup and had what we have come to know as typical J.D. Drew Red Sox numbers: a high on-base percentage, few extra base hits, and untimely hits.
In the No. 3 hole for the first time this season last night, Drew went 3-for-5 with a double, run scored, and an RBI.
It may seem as though this is looking into too small a sample, but this is not just a coincidence.
The Red Sox lineup is in rough shape these days, anyway, because of injuries to Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia.
In the place of Ortiz last night, Rocco Baldelli got the start as the designated hitter and batted fifth.
If we sub Ortiz back in that lineup and put Youkilis in (due back from the disabled list in about a week), we'll get:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury
6. Jason Bay
7. Mike Lowell
8. Jason Varitek
9. Julio Lugo
Per Francona's alternating hitters rule, the lineup in that respect remains unchanged, with the only two hitters from the same side of the plate in a row is Bay and Lowell.
This lineup does several things.
First, (and most obviously) it takes advantage of Drew's prowess in the No. 3 hole and allows his RBI opportunities with Ellsbury (who is, by the way, batting .307 on the year while trailing only Carl Crawford for the major league lead in stolen bases) and Pedroia so often on base.
Second, Ortiz will still be thought of as somewhat of a threat to opposing pitchers, as evidenced by the 20 walks he has drawn. Bay will provide protection for him, so pitchers cannot simply throw around him.
The rest of the lineup remains unchanged.
The only problem with this is that Francona is a player's manager. He has said that he has a great deal of loyalty to Ortiz and is not going to give up on him only six weeks into the season.
But, if Ortiz continues to struggle and Drew continues to be hot in the three spot, the change must happen for the Sox to really get the most out of their offense.