Red Sox Have Lineup Flexibility If David Ortiz Continues to Struggle Against Lefties

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Red Sox Have Lineup Flexibility If David Ortiz Continues to Struggle Against Lefties Editor’s note: Each weekday starting Jan. 17, NESN.com Red Sox reporter Tony Lee will offer his take on 10 different potential lineups for the 2011 Red Sox. Check back every day to see a new offensive rundown and the pros, cons and likelihood of each.

One of the more controversial chapters in the story of the 2010 Red Sox involved manager Terry Francona‘s decision to pinch hit for David Ortiz against a left-handed pitcher in a pressure situation. It was April 27 and the Sox and Toronto Blue Jays were tied 1-1 in the eighth. As Ortiz strolled to the plate to face Scott Downs, he was called back to the dugout and replaced by Mike Lowell, who had been stealing some starts from Ortiz against lefties in the days leading up to the event. 

We had all the makings of a legitimate platoon, but we also had some controversy, seemingly. Although reports differ as to how upset Ortiz was, it was evident that his pride was hurt a bit. He broke out of his slump in May to put an end to any talk of a platoon, but he continued to find his hits against lefties few and far between.

The slugger finished with a .599 OPS vs. left-handers, continuing a sharp decline that has lasted four years. If it continues to head in that direction in 2011, there will be times that Francona makes the tough, but correct, call in giving Ortiz a day off.

Here is one way the Red Sox could handle that situation, and likely not suffer too much of a drop in production:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. Carl Crawford, LF
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
5. Kevin Youkilis, DH
6. Jed Lowrie, 3B
7. Mike Cameron, RF
8. Jason Varitek, C
9. Marco Scutaro, SS

Pros
The top five hitters in the order remain in the top five spots, so the potent portion of Francona’s order is untouched. Youkilis, who has averaged 135 games in his last five years, could get a day as the DH to rest his legs a bit. He would be replaced by Lowrie, who hammers left-handers and whose best position, at least in the eyes of his manager, is third base. Of course, Lowrie could DH, but we’re working under the mind-set that this is an opportunity to not only give Lowrie some work in the field but also to give one of your workhorses an easier day.

This configuration could also be used with Lowrie at first base and Gonzalez the DH, or maybe with Lowrie at second and Pedroia the DH, if either of those guys needs a lighter day. Then again, Pedroia has never served in that role and Francona probably doesn’t want to tell him he can’t play the field some day.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have Ortiz available as a pinch hitter in the late innings against a righty reliever.

Cons
Well, there’s no Ortiz, whose presence remains a monstrous one when he’s locked in. And if there is no Ortiz, and it’s for the reasons we have stipulated above, that means he is still having issues with southpaws. The loss of Youkilis at third base could be a slight hit defensively.

Likelihood we will see this lineup in 2011
Maybe once or twice a month if Ortiz is doing OK. Maybe a little more if he’s not.

Monday, Jan. 24: Dropping Carl Crawford to fifth in lineup gives Red Sox potent lineup, keeps slugger in “normal” spots

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