The No. 1 rule of spring training is to not get too high or too low on individual performances, as the games bear little resemblance to regular season action. That being said, as the Red Sox put up a goose egg on Friday, it was hard not to envision what life could be like without David Ortiz in the lineup.
The Red Sox are still optimistic that Ortiz will be ready for Opening Day, but the drama surrounding his ailing Achilles is starting to pick up. The slugger’s status seems to change by the minute, even though it’s been nearly eight months since he first sustained the injury.
Ortiz felt soreness after some light running on Thursday, and while he took batting practice on Friday, the decision was ultimately made to keep him off the base paths. Ortiz still has more than three weeks to prepare for Boston’s season opener in the Bronx, so perhaps it’s not time to hit the panic button, but at what point do the Red Sox start figuring out an alternative plan?
Manager John Farrell doesn’t seem too concerned yet, as he continues to reiterate that it’s a day-by-day process. The Sox skipper did reveal on Friday, though, that Ortiz is starting to get frustrated with the whole situation, which isn’t a very encouraging sign for Boston.
“He’s critically important to our lineup,” Farrell told reporters in Fort Myers on Friday. “He’s aware of that. I think that’s what kind of adds to his frustration — not being able to get on the field and participate in spring training and get ready for the regular season.
“But because we haven’t come to that date where, ‘OK, Plan B is now a legitimate one’ … I know those discussions will take place. But we’re still hopeful in taking the approach that he will be ready. But we’ve got to be aware that that may need adjusting.”
Friday’s game against the Twins is hardly anything to get too worked up about. It’s still early in spring training, guys are still working out the kinks and each game’s lineup has the potential to feature a number of backups and surefire minor leaguers. But upon getting a glimpse of the offensive struggles, it’s not unrealistic to think that they’re the types of struggles the team would sustain with an Ortiz-less lineup.
The Red Sox mustered up just five hits in the 2-0 loss, and they really posed no threat offensively, other than when they loaded the bases and failed to score in the first inning. The Sox also struck out 11 times, and went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Again, the lackluster effort should be taken with a grain of salt, especially since the Sox scored 12 runs on 16 hits on Thursday, but without a middle-of-the-order presence, the Red Sox’ lineup suddenly becomes suspect.
Former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said on Thursday that he thought Ortiz was the American League MVP in 2012 before an injury derailed his season. It’s hard to agree with that given Boston’s place in the standings, but with a .318 average, .415 on-base percentage, 23 home runs and 60 RBIs in just 90 games, Ortiz was at least in the discussion.
We’re not too far removed from a three-year stint in which some wondered how much Ortiz had left in the tank. His numbers started to dip in 2008 through 2010, and skepticism about how much Ortiz was worth started to rise in the minds of many baseball onlookers. But after a solid 2011 season and a little bit of 2012 success, Ortiz earned himself a two-year deal, and the high expectations returned.
That’s what makes the whole situation even more frustrating. A few years ago, a nagging injury to Ortiz wouldn’t have posed the same threat, as it appeared his best days were behind him, and the Red Sox seemed to have the firepower to withstand such a blow. However, after seeing what the 37-year-old is still capable of doing at the plate and seeing the faith that the organization still has in his ability to produce, one can’t help but worry about the impact of not having him in the lineup — if, in fact, he’s forced to miss any time.
The Red Sox showed an inability to hit the big fly last season. Jarrod Satalamacchia led the team with 25 home runs, while Cody Ross finished third behind Ortiz with 22. This season, the Sox’ biggest source of power beyond Ortiz is expected to be Mike Napoli, Will Middlebrooks and perhaps even Jonny Gomes. It could work, but there are questions.
Napoli, while showing no symptoms of his hip condition, still comes with a certain amount of risk because of the ailment and the inevitable need for rest because of it. Middlebrooks is still young, and he’s coming off a wrist injury that ended his season — an injury he nearly reaggravated this spring. And there are certainly some concerns as to whether Gomes can handle an everyday workload.
Ortiz, meanwhile, seemed like the sure thing. That’s why re-signing him made sense. With him in the lineup, everything else can fall into place. If he’s sidelined, the whole approach gets thrown out of whack.
It’s not time to panic about Ortiz’s Opening Day status just yet, but a lineup without him is far less daunting.
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