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David Ortiz: ‘Papi’s going to struggle, too’

08.29.13 at 11:42 pm ET
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For David Ortiz, the moment marked something of a perfect storm of unlikely futility. Mired amidst one of the worst clusters of games in his storied career — an 0-for-21 stretch that dated to last Monday — Ortiz would have to step to the plate against a pitcher who represents power-sapping Kryptonite to him in Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz (against whom Ortiz was 1-for-18 with 10 strikeouts in his career).

The situation: Game on the line. Red Sox trailing the Orioles, 3-2. Jacoby Ellsbury on third, representing the tying run. Two outs in the eighth inning.

What to do? Pinch-hit? Try to exploit an exaggerated infield shift that had third baseman Manny Machado standing in shallow right field, and no one at short, by bunting?

No and no.

“He’€™s obviously working through some things right now. [But] there was no thought of a pinch-hit or try to take away from what his strengths are,” said manager John Farrell. “We’€™ve seen many, many times against left-handers where he stayed inside the ball, either ground ball up the middle or line drive to right-center field, and he’€™s just going through a spell right now where he’€™s working to get out of it.”

In this instance, the work bore no fruit. Ortiz struck out on four pitches, as Matusz blew three straight low-90s fastballs by him up and away, ending the rally and condemning the Sox to a one-run loss. There would be no late-innings heroics on Thursday. He’s now 0-for-22, the second longest hitless stretch of his Red Sox career (he once went 0-for-23 in Boston; he also had an 0-for-27 split over parts of three seasons with the Twins in another lifetime). For the first time in his exceptional baseball career, Ortiz has gone six straight starts without a hit. He has punched out eight times during that period. He has walked just once — and that was an intentional free pass.

In short, he looks like a confounding imposter of the player who has been, to date, one of the most consistent and productive in the American League in 2013.

“It looks like he might be tying to figure some things out at the plate, whether that’€™s thoughts that get in the way rather than just being free of mind and taking his normal swing,” said Farrell. “He’€™s proving that he’€™s human. As strong and productive as his year has been, it’€™s not uncommon for guys to go through a stretch in which he’€™s in.”

Again, it’s the sort of slump that is far from unprecedented. In Ortiz’s 11-season tenure in Boston, there had been 16 prior instances of Sox position players going six straight starts without a hit. And so, Ortiz suggested that this current period is not cause for alarm.

“Hey, I’m a player just like everybody else,” said Ortiz. “I’m not going to put pressure on myself. We don’t have time for that. Just keep trying. That’s the only way you can get out of it.”

He was, of course, aware of his career-long struggles against Matusz. But Ortiz dismissed the notion that he felt any uneasiness about facing the left-hander amidst his current slump.

“He’s effectively wild, that’s what I’d call him. Today his fastball was racing up and cutting away,” said Ortiz. “I know what he’s going to do to me. But when you’re swinging and [expletive] ain’t coming through, it’s easier for them to come through and get the job done.

“I don’t care [about facing Matusz]. I’ll face anybody. I’ve been facing everybody in this league for years. It’s just, things aren’t coming through right now,” he added. “When you’re right, you’re right. It seems like I’m not right right now. Just got to keep on battling, figure things out.”

Ortiz has been working to do just that. He’s taken early batting practice, trying to lock in the swing that permits him to stay back and drive pitches off the wall in left-center. But while the effort is there, the results have yet to arrive. It’s a reality of baseball, one that is unavoidable — even for a player who has been among the most productive in the game for more than a decade.

“[Expletive] happens,” Ortiz shrugged on his way out of the clubhouse. “It’s not the end of the world. Papi’s going to struggle, too. I’ll be back.”

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