Ortiz Scuffling, Red Sox in Tough Position

ChiCitySports .ComCorrespondent IMay 25, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 14:  David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox strikes out swinging with the bases loaded to end the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on May 14, 2009 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.  The Angels won 5-4 in 12 innings.   (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

It's a sight that is tough to swallow for Boston Red Sox fans.

For years, David Ortiz has been a symbol of power, a symbol that struck fear into opposing pitchers' hearts. Fenway Park would erupt every time he stepped to the plate, and Ortiz would gladly give us a chance to cheer, delivering clutch hit after clutch hit.

He was a trademark in the 2004 playoffs, helping the Red Sox beat the Yankees after being down 3-0 in what some describe as the greatest year in Red Sox history.

"Big Papi" was at the high point in his career, and his big goofy smile was plastered over newspapers and photos.

But the David Ortiz that Boston fans have come to know is just an outline of his former self, both with his persona and at the plate.

The 2008 season marked the start of a decline, as Ortiz struggled to stay afloat while dealing with injuries and the departure of Manny Ramirez from the lineup, breaking up their comraderie and a feared 1-2 punch.

In 109 games, Ortiz still had 23 homers and 89 RBI's, but saw his average plummet down to .264. His .OBP, slugging percentage, and .OPS were all on the decline, and Ortiz was battling serious mechanics issues in his swing.

Most fans, radio personalities, and reporters dismissed these problems, citing a wrist injury and not enough games played as his problem. The thought of Big Papi being anything other than the greatest power threat in the AL was placed deep in the back of everyone's minds.

Helping his cause, Ortiz showed up at Spring Training in the greatest shape of his career, and looked like he was ready to bring the Sox back to the World Series.

This was not the case, as Ortiz seemed out of juice to start the season. He was getting his fair share of RBI's, but the average was down and the most important stat of all, home runs, had remained blank since Opening Day.

As April turned to May and the games started to build up, Ortiz's offense went down. The swing mechanics were breaking down and so was the confidence, as it became evident that Ortiz was feeling the pressure.

Just as the rumbles were turning into aired-out complaints, Ortiz delivered.

On May 20, in the fifth inning after two ugly at-bats, Papi got his pitch and crushed a fastball to dead center field, the deepest part of Fenway. Even when he connected, he wasn't going to make anything easy for himself.

Fans rejoiced, players let out a sigh of relief, and everything felt as if it would be back to normal. But it seems that home run was acting as a cruel joke on Red Sox nation, because Ortiz now finds himself in the middle of a slump more harsh than before.

In his past four games(16 at-bats) since the home run, David has totaled exactly one hit and struck out seven times.

This bad stretch may have been sparked by a 12-inning game against the Angels on May 14, where Ortiz went 0-for-7 and stranded 12 runners on base, a remarkable total considering the Angels ended up winning by just one run.

Manager Terry Francona, hitting coach Dave Magadan, and the rest of the Red Sox coaching staff have been behind Ortiz the entire way, but as June creeps upon us and the summer pennant races heat up, can we really afford to have him batting third?

Third in the order, a place Ortiz has not left since May of 2005.

But, a .195 average with one home run and 18 RBI will not cut it on a team that will have to hold off AL East foes such as the Rays, Yankees, and upstart Blue Jays.

Francona has publicly stated he will not give up on Ortiz, and he may have a point. What good will come of moving Ortiz down in the lineup, shattering any remnants of confidence he has left?

"No," Ortiz said, commenting on whether or not he thinks he'll be benched. "Not again. I think I got figured out what I need. That's it. I've got to keep on playing. No more breaks. Ride or die from now on."

There are three options, none of which have worked so far or look appealing to everyone in the organization.

You can bench Ortiz for a week or two, or send him to the DL where he can then go on a rehab stint to Pawtucket. The cons of this could be confidence-shattering, as well as the fact that he may not be able to find his groove, even at a lower level.

The pros are that Ortiz can work extensively with Magadan in hopes to regain a once devastating swing.

There is always the option to let Ortiz keep playing through this. He proved that if given time, he can eventually hit the home run, but can we really wait 30-35 games to see our third hitter hit one home run?

His mechanics are so off that he may be doing himself more harm trying to figure it out than he would just re-learning his swing.

The final option is to move him down in the lineup. This, as a writer, fan, and someone who watches baseball often, is probably the decision they will make, but it may not be the smartest.

What will the Sox do when Ortiz starts stranding guys like Jason Bay, Kevin Youkilis, and Mike Lowell? All three of those guys are on a tear right now at the plate, and Ortiz could act as a buzzkill to the offense.

There really is no win-win situation for the Red Sox and Ortiz. Helping one may hurt the other, and the same can work in the opposite direction.

If Ortiz does not start generating offense soon, we may not see Boston's most lovable athlete for much longer.

Mark Chiarelli-VSN Writer



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