Red Sox Ortiz gets rare start at first base at Fenway


A combination of unexpected developments has coalesced to form today’s surprising lineup for today’s Red Sox game against the American League West leading Houston Astros. The recent Red Sox fan will see something today he or she may have never seen. David Ortiz is starting today’s game at first base at Fenway Park, for the first time since 2005.

This combination mentioned above has many parts. The first is Hanley Ramirez‘ struggles in left field. You don’t need to see his UZR (uniform zone rating) or defensive runs saved (negative) to tell you what your eyes can, that the team has been worse defensively with him on the field going after balls like a kid dipping his toes in a cold pool. Though he has only 24 plate appearances as DH, Hanley has hit four homers in that spot with a 1.221 OPS, compared to .788 as left fielder in 240 plate appearances. The team likely wants to see if that production can continue with more DH appearances. Putting him at DH more often makes the team better on both sides of the ball.

When Hanley was struck on the hand by a Xander Bogaerts line drive and missed a week, it opened the door for Alejandro De Aza to get regular playing time. De Aza has charged through that door to the tune of a .329/.369/.633 batting line in 84 plate appearances, which means, a la Brock Holt, they need to get him in the lineup in any way possible. The return of Shane Victorino has complicated that happy complication, because if they team has any hope of trading Victorino and the remainder of his $13 million owed for this season (if they need to) at the trading deadline July 31, then Victorino needs to stay in the lineup as well. If they are keeping Victorino, they also need to see if he can play consecutive games in the field as he is doing today, or several in a row, to see if they can rely on him.

More from David Ortiz

None of this would be as important as it is, or send Ortiz back to first base at Fenway, if Mike Napoli were producing from the first base position. In the last year of a contract paying him $16 million this season, he simply is not. His .192/.294/.358 batting line is not enough for a first baseman. It isn’t good enough for any position, besides maybe back-up catcher (Let’s work on that hitting Sandy Leon with your .431 OPS, even with three hits yesterday) Many sources reported even Pablo Sandoval could see some time at first base since he has been taking grounders at first base. He has 59 games of experience there in the majors, though his last appearance there was in 2012.

With Holt, and now Ortiz (and maybe even Sandoval), an option at first base, today’s lineup suggests that Napoli’s chances of helping the Red Sox this season may be about to run out