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Red Sox manager Terry Francona currently faces two questions that are in essence one and the same: How much longer can he, in good conscience, continue to write David Ortiz's name into the lineup each day, and how much longer can he not write Jeremy Hermida's name into that lineup?
Ortiz has 13 whiffs in 26 at-bats. He has three walks and just four hits (Dustin Pedroia had four in one game this week), one of which was a ball that bounced in and out of a Twins outfielder's glove. Another hit, an opposite-field double down the third-base line on Friday, was far more of an accident than an accomplishment given that the ball hit the top of his bat.
As of today, Ortiz is sporting a paltry .154 batting average.
Meanwhile, Hermida had a hit in his first game with the Sox last week. He had replaced Ortiz, who'd been ejected after arguing a called third strike. Hermida then hit a homer in his first start, which came the very next day. In all, Hermida has five hits in 17 at-bats, resulting in a .294 average. Naturally, this is a very small sample size, but four of the five hits were for extra bases and resulted in six RBI.
Hermida is just 26, and entering the prime of his career. He was the 11th player picked in the 2002 draft. He has a lot of upside and he needs at-bats. Yet, he was brought to the Red Sox to be a fourth outfielder, after being a starter in Florida
Ortiz, on the other hand, has been in decline for two years. Though he hit 27 homers after June 6 last season, Ortiz had an abysmal first two months of the season, and finished the year batting .238. He followed that by batting .083 in the ALDS, and then proceeded to have a miserable spring training, at one point going 1-for-19.
Francona and hitting coach Dave Magadan said he was just working on his timing, and that it shouldn't be taken too seriously.
But his troubles have continued.
And then there's Mike Lowell, who is unhappily sitting on the bench waiting his turn. In Saturday's game, he surprised many with a nifty diving backhanded stab that snared a ball seemingly destined for left field. Though he may still be a capable defender, with Adrian Beltre in front of him, time at third will be sparing.
But Lowell can still hit, and if Ortiz cannot, at-bats can be had in the role of DH. Lowell only has eight at-bats so far this season, resulting in two hits. But that's just two fewer than Ortiz in less than a third of the at-bats.
The point is, with the young and promising Hermida making a strong case for himself very quickly, and with the versatile veteran Lowell not so patiently awaiting his turn, Ortiz's days may be numbered unless he turns things around quickly.
There's no doubting that Ortiz cares; he was the first Red Sox player to arrive to the ballpark yesterday and took extra hitting.
A couple of years ago, Ortiz was one of the most feared hitters in baseball. Now, it's becoming obvious that teams are taking the bat out of Kevin Youkilis' hands by pitching around him. They no longer respect Ortiz and know he can't beat them.
It's all become so sad for Ortiz so quickly. It's hard to watch because of all he meant to the team for so long. He was the face of the franchise, a huge man with swagger and a smiling face. Now that swagger is gone, replaced by slow, uncomfortable walks back to the dugout after each strikeout or pop out.
If Ortiz doesn't have one last resurgence very soon, a great Red Sox career will have prematurely ended. The Red Sox can't have him lingering and sulking on the bench.
The sad truth is, if Ortiz can't hit, he's useless to the Red Sox. In addition, Hermida and Lowell are waiting anxiously.