How Long Can Terry Francona Keep David Ortiz at Designated Hitter? David Ortiz was the not-so-proud owner of the golden sombrero in Sunday's Red Sox-Royals matinee.

How long can the Sox go on with Big Papi at designated hitter?

The four-strikeout performance comes after an already frustrating start to the series against the Royals. Ortiz was tossed in the fifth inning Friday night for arguing a strikeout call, with Jeremy Hermida replacing him.

Big Papi is clearly frustrated, and the last thing he wants to do is continue his well-documented, early-season struggles from last year. As most Red Sox fans no doubt recall, though Ortiz hit rock bottom in April and May of last year, he was one of the American League's best sluggers the rest of the way.

But can the Red Sox afford to be as patient this year hoping for a similar outcome that may never materialize?

The Red Sox' potential offensive struggles were dissected all offseason. While they have yet to manifest themselves thus far this year – the 33 runs scored so far rank in the top 10 of baseball — the Red Sox simply can't afford to have a sinkhole in their lineup for any period of time while the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays run amok.

If the lefty stops striking out and starts cranking home runs, the pressure will come off. Until then, it's fair to wonder how long manager Terry Francona can go without pulling the plug on Ortiz at DH. (Or, given Francona's patience with his veterans, perhaps it will be general manager Theo Epstein doing the deciding.)

While life post-Papi may be hard to imagine, the Red Sox aren't without potential replacements.

Mike Lowell continues to ride the pine despite showing no indications that his offensive game has fallen off. Defense may still be a concern with Lowell and his surgically repaired hip, but he wouldn't be asked to wear anything but batting gloves while DHing.

Don't forget Jeremy Hermida, either, who has impressed with his power in the early going and who, at 26, could be breaking out into the star many thought he would become after being the 11th pick in the 2002 amateur draft.

Also hanging around in the clubhouse is jack-of-all-trades Bill Hall, who is four years removed from a 35-home run season. That total would have ranked second among all Red Sox hitters in 2009.

Or how about this for a possible solution? Install the captain back behind the plate. After all, Jason Varitek's two home runs Friday indicate he still has plenty of pop left. That would free up V-Mart to focus all his energies on making pitchers tremble when he steps to the plate.

The DH role also could be utilized in a time-share capacity. One thing all Red Sox starters and possible Ortiz replacements have in common is their ability to play defense at an acceptable level. The DH slot could become a revolving door of names who take a break from the field and are able to remain in the lineup.

Instead of telling Kevin Youkilis to take a seat when it's time to put Lowell in action, Youk would just head off to the designated hitter's position.

There is no shortage of solutions to the DH quandary. The only question is: When do the Red Sox have to say "enough is enough" and bring about an end to the Big Papi era — an era and person that will always be defined by monstrous home runs and glittering World Series rings?

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April 11: Should the Red Sox consider moving Daisuke Matsuzaka to the bullpen?