It may be painful, but designated hitter David Ortiz may need to take a hit down in the five-hole of the Boston Red Sox batting lineup. With the team’s offense severely struggling, like in last night’s game, sacrifices must be made.
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Andrew Krammer of ESPN reported that “Red Sox manager John Farrell swapped Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval in the No. 3 and 5 holes and put right fielder Rusney Castillo back into the lineup after Boston produced eight hits in Monday’s 7-2 loss, ending a three-game streak of at least 10 hits.” The idea behind the move was that Ortiz has hit .300 in his career from that position in the lineup, possibly sparking a return of glory which he has so often done in the past. Ortiz went 1-for-4, with no walks or strikeouts, last night. Getting on base allowed first baseman Mike Napoli to cash him in.
Red Sox Nation is used to seeing Ortiz drive other players in, not the other way around. Ortiz said, “I’m running out of patience a bit, which is when I’m not at my best … I have to go back to being patient and swing at the pitches I can drive.”
Ortiz is sitting at a .222 batting average, with a .386 slugging percentage. Not exactly seeing the ball that well, as of late. Even when he makes contact, it’s not being punched hard like in his most memorable moments. According to FanGraphs.com, Ortiz is getting butchered by left-handed pitching, hitting only .105 this year. As expected for a lefty hitter, he’s been thriving more with a short right-field fence at home in Fenway Park, where he is hitting .284 with a .391 batting average against right-handers. However, Farrell cannot be expected to let that performance pardon the face of the franchise to continue hitting earlier in the order.
Traditionally, your leadoff and second hitters set the table for the third spot to drive them around the bases, and earn some RBIs. The fourth spot in the lineup cleans up the mess, hence the name ‘cleanup spot’. In the first inning, you may not even be thinking to put your bucket helmet on, let alone getting to the on-deck circle, if you hit in the five-hole. This place is where Ortiz, who carried his team on his back by hitting .688 in the 2013 World Series, is now being expected to find his way back to the promised land.
The 19-year veteran and nine-time All-Star can’t say that this move was not on his radar. He has been put there, before, and his numbers reflect the same situations. The one statistic, in particular, has been his undoing this year: Ortiz is hitting .135 with runners in scoring position. For a player who is being paid, specifically, to score runners on base, instead of playing defense, Ortiz is not getting his job done. Even with men on base, he’s only hitting .188, which means he hasn’t even been moving his teammates over for others to drive home.
Ortiz is being paid $16 million for this season, with two option seasons if he has 425 plate appearances in 2015 and 2016. However, if he doesn’t start getting more hits, players like Napoli could leap-frog him in the batting order. Napoli may be hitting .214 for the season, but he is hitting .417 in the last seven days, with four home runs and nine RBIs in 24 at-bats. When Boston starts playing against interleague opponents, and you are Farrell, who would you put in at first base and who would you have riding the bench?
When you want to win, you have to be willing to make some changes. In the case of Ortiz, it may be time for a change, in more ways than one.
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