Can David Ortiz Really Promise Us He'll Break out of His Slump?

Matt DolloffCorrespondent IMay 4, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 15:  David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox looks on against the Oakland Athletics during a Major League Baseball game on April 15, 2009 at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Of all the things Red Sox Nation was concerned about, very low on the list was whether or not David Ortiz was aware he’s in a major slump to start the 2009 season. We all know of his struggles, and we expect Ortiz to be well aware of it himself.

So it came as no surprise when Ortiz made light of his situation, admitting that he is mired in a dreadful power outage: He’s hit exactly zero home runs in 96 at-bats this season, and only eight of his 20 hits have gone for extra bases.

I am part of Red Sox Nation, and I can feel the pain of every Red Sox fan who has watched Big Papi look utterly helpless at the plate. I can feel the pain of every Red Sox fan who has had to hear the hemming and hawing of the baseball pundits who have spoken of his deteriorating bat speed and lack of hittable pitches being thrown his way.

What is really hitting us now is that Ortiz has vowed to break out of this early-season slump. He told RedSox.com’s Ian Browne today, “You better write that [stuff] down right now, I will. I’ll be back.”

My reaction to that? Exasperation.

Ortiz has done little more than frustrate us as a fanbase this April and May. Dustin Pedroia has assured us of a similar turn-around for Ortiz, that the season isn’t 50 at-bats.

It’s not 100 at-bats, either. But for a guy like Ortiz, that is a disturbing number to reach without hitting a single home run. One hundred at-bats without a home run? And we’re talking about a guy who once hit 54 dingers in one season?

“I’m not happy. Why should I be?” Ortiz said. “But I’ll tell you what, dog, I’m the kind of guy that, [the first] 100 at-bats—in two weeks, you can [forget about it]. I’m just going to keep the flow, keep playing the game, not worry about too many things. I don’t want to be listening to all the negativity, all the [stuff] that comes with it. It seems like it’s never enough.”

I can understand Ortiz’s displeasure with the negativity surrounding him right now, but can he really blame us?

Sometimes it may feel like it’s never enough, but I could assure him that if he had at least three or four home runs right now, we wouldn’t be all over him like we are right now. Zero home runs from a designated hitter in the three-hole is unacceptable.

In all fairness to Papi, he had a similar slump in April of 2008. He hit only .198 that month, but the big difference between then and now is that he still hit the ball out of the park five times.

And his 21 RBI were very good for someone with such a poor batting average. He turned it around in May, hitting .318 with eight more home runs, before injuring his wrist and missing almost all of June and July.

So is this what we should come to expect now? Even if Ortiz does break out of his slump, is he only going to re-injure himself and cause yet another drop-off in production? It’s irrational to expect an injury from someone, but in Ortiz’s case it would only be natural.

He is 33 years old and at the typical age of decline for big, thickly-built designated hitters just like himself.

It’s going to be very disturbing if Ortiz can’t hit the ball out of (or close to it) the new Yankee Stadium, which is not only tailor-made for lefties, but is also quickly earning a reputation as Coors Field East.

All I ask of Terry Francona and the Red Sox is to make sure Ortiz isn’t a liability all season. Right now, the team would be better suited hitting him lower in the lineup than having his .600 OPS batting right in the three-hole. If his prolonged slump continues, they need to move him down.

We need to stop with the nostalgia and realize this man is not what he used to be, and will not hit 30 home runs ever again. But for now, just one would be nice.


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