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A bunt offered David Ortiz chicken soup for the soul (and batting average)

05.15.12 at 9:31 pm ET
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David Ortiz hit a home run on Tuesday. Yawn.

The idea that Ortiz might go deep is hardly an unexpected event. He has 1,809 hits in a career that has seen him spend parts of 16 seasons in the majors. Of those, 386 have been homers.

But on Tuesday, in a 5-0 victory over the Mariners, Ortiz did something with little precedent in his career. For just the sixth time in his career and the first time since 2010, he dropped a perfect bunt single down the third base line.

The decision to do so came in the bottom of the fifth inning, after the Mariners replaced starter Blake Beavan with left-hander Charlie Furbush. Furbush works from an angle that gives left-handers little sense of comfort; last year, Ortiz was 1-for-5 with two strikeouts and two groundballs against him.

And so, Ortiz decided to take advantage of the fact that the Mariners infield was employing a shift against him, with the third baseman swung around to occupy what was roughly the shortstop position in deference to the fact that three infielders were crowded on the right side of the diamond.

“You’ve got to play the game the way it’s supposed to be. I never see the ball coming out of that guy anyway,” said Ortiz. “I’ve got to make chicken soup out of chicken you-know-what.”

The decision was made unilaterally.

“It’s me hitting,” said Ortiz. “Nobody else. I do whatever I want to do.”

In this case, he also executed precisely what he wanted to do. He dropped a textbook bunt down the third base line. With no Mariners infielder within a zip code of the ball, Ortiz easily legged out the infield hit.

It was the first time that Ortiz had bunted for a single since Oct. 3, 2010, when he did so against the Yankees on the final day of the season. Prior to that, he had four career bunt hits, all of which came in 2005 and 2006, when teams were just beginning to employ the shift against him (much to the designated hitter’s displeasure).

The strategy thrilled Ortiz’s teammates, who were elated at the sight of the man with one of the most ferocious swings in big league history executing a form of small ball so well. They were further enthused when Ortiz hustled safely into second on a fielder’s choice when the throw pulled the shortstop wide of the bag, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a Will Middlebrooks single.

Again, the sight of Ortiz trotting around the bases has become commonplace in the slugger’s decade in Boston. The image of him flying around the bases and manufacturing runs is somewhat novel, a reflection of the fact that he used the offseason to slim down and reshape himself.

“You know he lost all that weight and he’s got some speed now, so he’s feeling good right now,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “That’s how we like it.”

The approach could reap ancillary benefits if Ortiz continues to employ it successfully. If he continues to use the bunt as a countermeasure against the shift, then teams will have to start respecting his ability to bunt for a single. In that scenario, the DH could force teams to realign, thus opening up the field for when he swings away.

“He said, ‘That’s why we practice it in spring training, right?’ It is,” said manager Bobby Valentine. “I hope he gets 10 of those this year. It spreads out the defense, then he’ll get another 10 hits through the right side of the infield.”

Of course, Ortiz has required little help in getting his hits this year. After going 2-for-3 with a homer (yawn) and a walk on Tuesday, he’s now hitting .353 with a .417 OBP, .633 slugging percentage and 1.050 OPS, all marks that rank among the top three in the American League.

With that sort of performance, there will be no rush to achieve a seventh career bunt single.

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