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David Ortiz likes hitting home runs a whole lot more than playing first base

03.06.12 at 12:32 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“ At least David Ortiz is honest.

‘€œBobby [Valentine] needs me out there,’€ the Red Sox slugger said after his team’€™s 10-2 spring training win over the Twins Monday night at Hammond Stadium. ‘€œIt’€™s not my favorite thing to do.’€

What Ortiz was talking about, of course, was playing first base. The Red Sox’€™ second Grapefruit League game of spring training marked the second time the DH has played the field, this time surviving five innings ‘€“ and two massive pop-ups which he caught cleanly ‘€“ before breathing a sigh of relief.

‘€œI think I have a couple of more times in me,’€ he said. ‘€œWe’€™ll see.’€

The thinking behind Valentine putting Ortiz in the field ‘€“ which the manager said most likely won’€™t be reoccurring in the coming days ‘€“ was to offer a pre-emptive strike if the 36-year-old is pressed into action during interleague play.

The naysayers point to the risk Valentine is running in putting his $14.575 million slugger in harm’€™s way. But for Ortiz, potential injury doesn’€™t even factor into the equation. In fact, because of his weight loss this offseason he has managed to survive the extra time on his feet

‘€œI feel fine. It doesn’€™t bother me at all. Just something you have to get used to,’€ he said. ‘€œI just don’€™t want to see [Joe] Mauer or [Justin] Morneau hitting a rocket down there and kill me. At least I survived two monster fly balls.

‘€œI still move pretty good at first base, and everything I can catch I can handle. My problem is getting used to that diving thing. The last time I dove on a baseball field was trying to get out of way.’€

Not only did Ortiz weather the storm of fielding practice, but he has seemingly started going down the right road when it comes to the chief portion of his game ‘€“ swinging the bat.

He managed two hits Monday night, including a home run over the right field wall. And in the last at-bat, he narrowly missed an opposite field bomb.

After a few slow starts in spring training (remember Ortiz reminding writers they don’€™t put spring training stats on the back of baseball cards after starting 0-for-17?) he has seemingly found a groove when it comes to preparation.

‘€œI focus more on working on my mechanics and stuff in spring training and then just doing what I did tonight,’€ Ortiz said. ‘€œThe reason why we have spring training, especially for a guy like me, is to get prepared for the season. I tried to put some good swings out there when I’€™m playing but what I really want to do is make sure my timing, my foot is down on time and I can see pitches and read pitches good and be ready to go for the season.

‘€œI already told Bobby I’€™m going to do what I did last year, play more, I don’€™t mind if he sends me on the road or whatever, so I can get some playing time. Last year that helped me out a lot.’€

And his new manager is also like he has seen from the Red Sox’€™ new part-time first baseman.

‘€œI loved him. You know, really, he swung the bat extremely well,’€ said Valentine of Ortiz’€™ performance. ‘€œHe swung at the first pitch, was right on it both times, fouled it off, made the adjustment, hit the ball hard. Fought a popup. Stretched and made the third out on a play, third to first base. Has energy. Is bouncing around nicely. He thinks he needs to gain a little weight because that ball didn’€™t go out to left field but we’€™ll keep that thought out of his mind.’€

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