Around the Horn: DH/Bench
Try as they might, pitchers have yet to figure out Ortiz
The following is the last in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. For the past seven Wednesdays, we've previewed a different position. Today: Designated hitter and bench.
BOSTON -- For many American League teams, the designated hitter is an interchangeable slot where players can take turns resting their legs for a day or two. It is also position where a player can ease himself back from an injury. When you talk about the Boston Red Sox, forget about either of those two scenarios.
The Red Sox have, with the exception of Interleague Play in the National League parks, an immovable DH. His name is David Ortiz, and he makes as much impact as any player in the game.
All Ortiz does is hit. But he does it better than just about anybody else. He does it with sheer force. And when the game is on the line, Ortiz can be all but unstoppable.
Big Papi is entering his fifth season as Boston's full-time DH, and pitchers have yet to find an answer for him.
Instead, Ortiz seems to take his game to another level each year. Consider his home run totals since arriving in Boston. In '03, Ortiz belted 31 homers. He followed that up with 41 long balls in the World Series championship season of '04. In narrowly losing out on the AL Most Valuable Player Award in 2005, Ortiz went deep 47 times. And just when you thought he had reached his peak, he mashed a team record of 54 homers in 2006.
Can Ortiz clear the wall 60 times in '07? Don't put it past him. A left-handed slugger smack in the middle of his prime, Ortiz doesn't have any detectable weaknesses in his offensive approach. He also happens to have one of the greatest pure hitters of this generation hitting behind him in the batting order in Manny Ramirez.
Where Ortiz would be worked around quite often with just about any team, it's not as if pitchers can put him on base with the equally dangerous Ramirez looming.
As for the bench, the Red Sox seem to have it set before Spring Training has even started. Usually, there are battles for the final couple of utility spots. Not this year.
Barring injuries, the Red Sox have everything all mapped out. The four-man bench will consist of Doug Mirabelli, Alex Cora, Wily Mo Pena and Eric Hinske. The defensive versatility of those latter three players should allow the Sox to carry 12 pitchers.
Mirabelli, who was dealt to San Diego prior to last season only to return by May 1, will once again be the backup catcher. Mirabelli's main job in Boston, something he's done very well since his initial arrival in 2001, is to handle the tricky knuckleballs of Tim Wakefield. Nobody does this job better than Mirabelli.
Boston Red Sox
However, Mirabelli struggled mightily at the plate last year, which cost him a significant pay cut in '07. General manager Theo Epstein said earlier this winter that Mirabelli is determined to rebound from his disappointing season.
Cora can play everywhere in the infield except first base. He will be especially beneficial at second base, where rookie Dustin Pedroia is an unproven starter. The other benefit of Cora is that he's one of the most fundamentally sound players you'll see. He's adept at dropping down a bunt or moving a runner over.
The right-handed-hitting Pena gives the Sox the type of thumper off the bench that many teams lack. He will back up at all three outfield spots, and the hope is that he'll get 400 at-bats and belt 20 homers.
Then there's Hinske, who should emerge as a valuable left-handed bat off the bench. Manager Terry Francona should be able to mix and match with Hinske and Pena when the opposing manager tries to play the righty-lefty game. Hinske will mainly play the corner infield spots, but he can also play the corner outfield spots when the need arises.
The Red Sox have a proven bench that should serve Francona well when it comes to late-game decisions.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.