Minus Jason Bay, More Weight on Shoulders of David Ortiz

Minus Jason Bay, More Weight on Shoulders of David Ortiz David Ortiz has been through enough pressure over the past year.

He began the season in the slump of a lifetime — hitting .230 in April, then .143 in May. He didn’t hit a home run until the 20th of May. He was dealing with the illness of his father back in the Dominican Republic. He was constantly being forced to answer questions about steroids — first about Alex Rodriguez, then about Manny Ramirez, then finally — when shocking news was handed down by the New York Times in late July — about himself.

But playing well was the best revenge. There’s nothing like a hot streak to silence the pressure you carry with you throughout the season — after the All-Star break, Papi started hitting and we all shut up and watched. It was a sight to behold.

The Red Sox designated hitter finished the season with 28 home runs and 99 runs batted in. He also tacked on 35 doubles.

Now, with Jason Bay headed south down I-95, the Red Sox might need him even more.

Bay is headed to Queens, and with their old cleanup man in a Mets uniform, the Red Sox will have to look to trusty old Papi for a return to form.

The Red Sox were packing one of the most potent lineups in the game last season from one through nine. But their one relative deficiency was game-changing power — Bay went deep 36 times in his only full season in a Red Sox uniform — and he was their only 30-homer guy. J.D. Drew had 24 and Kevin Youkilis had 27. Manny Ramirez is long gone, and Mike Lowell might soon be too. As far as legitimate long-ball threats go, Papi is the Red Sox’ main man.

There will be no room for early-season slumping in 2010. No room for off-the-field distractions or scandals. Papi has to be healthy, focused and ready to have a big season.

That won’t be easy for him at age 34. But sources close to the slugger say he’s determined to get it done. A report in Sunday’s Boston Herald indicates that Papi looks “leaner and about 10 pounds lighter,” the direct result of the slugger rededicating himself to getting into shape.

Papi’s going to keep his weight down. He’s going to keep his eye and his instincts razor-sharp. He’s going to stay zeroed in throughout 2010, from wire to wire.

Remember, this is also a contract year for Big Papi. The slugger signed a four-year, $52 million extension with the Red Sox back in 2006, keeping him in town through 2010 with an option for 2011. That option is a club option, and it’s not cheap. The Red Sox will have to fork over $12.5 million to keep Papi around another season, and with no buyout clause, they can let him walk for free.

Like Papi needed another reason to prove himself.

There will be a lot riding on David Ortiz’s 2010 performance. For his wallet, it means a lot. But for the Red Sox, it might mean even more.

The Red Sox will miss Jason Bay. He was an integral part of their lineup for a season and a half, and they were a better team with him around.

But to fill that void, they’ll look to the one guy who’s been a mainstay in their order for the last seven years.

It’s up to David Ortiz to handle that pressure. He’s done it before.

Yardbarker

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