Ortiz back in Red Sox's starting lineup
Slugger returns to No. 3 spot in order after weekend break
BOSTON -- Not only did Red Sox slugger David Ortiz return to the starting lineup on Tuesday night against the Blue Jays following his three-day break in Seattle, but he was right back in the No. 3 spot in the batting order.
Big Papi, Boston's slumping designated hitter, hasn't batted anywhere other than third since early in the 2005 season.
Manager Terry Francona doesn't feel this is the time to move Ortiz, who was batting .208 with no homers and 15 RBIs entering Tuesday.
"I actually didn't," Francona said. "If I said I hadn't thought about the lineup, that's not true. But I knew all along I really didn't [want to move Ortiz]. David and I talked about that a little bit.
"This is hard, because I don't want to tell a player, 'Hey, if you keep struggling, we're going to move you down.' I don't want to do that. I want him to hit. I think our best lineup is with him hitting third. Now, saying that, when you're looking for production ... and I told him, if I ever decide to change that, I'll tell you first. And he understood that. The one thing I don't want to do is start bouncing the lineup all over the place."
Ortiz declined to speak before the game, but he seemed in a good mood.
"Not today, maybe in a week," Ortiz said. "Wait until I get hot."
Ortiz's teammates and ex-teammates all seem to think he will get untracked eventually.
"I think, David, physically, looks good," said Kevin Millar, who started as the designated hitter for the Blue Jays on Tuesday night and was a teammate of Ortiz from 2003-05. "I think he's obviously still very powerful, and I think once he gets that first one, you're going to see him hit 10 in a month, then seven in a month, and you'll know he's back."
Millar went through a similarly epic slump with the Red Sox in the first half of the 2004 season, taking a .269 average with five homers and 24 RBIs into action on July 22. Francona stuck with Millar in that case, and the right-handed hitter was hot for the rest of the season, finishing at .297 with 18 homers and 74 RBIs. Boston went on to win the World Series.
"He's the best about that, Tito is," said Millar. "He's not going to move him down and say he's not going to do this. He's going to stick with him and he needs to."
For as Millar points out, there is plenty of proof in Ortiz's track record.
"You know what, he should have a longer runway then most players here, just because of what this guy has done, all the big hits he's had," Millar said. "You feel terrible for him. I want to talk to him today. You have to understand, it's baseball and there's struggles, and when you start out this way, it's magnified and it's brutal. You can go do this in August and go 80, 90, 100 at-bats without a home run -- it happens. But at the start, it gets magnified and becomes more mental than physical."
Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell knows all about it, too, having gone through a nightmarish 2005 season with the Marlins.
"Every stadium has [the stats] staring you in the face," Lowell said. "He can put together a really good year in 4 1/2 months. Hopefully it works out. We're rooting for him and we all feel for him. He's a guy who's very proud and wants to help the team win, so we're expecting him to do some good things for us."
Right fielder J.D. Drew, fresh off signing a five-year, $70 million contract, had a terrible first half of 2007 for the Red Sox and didn't really get going until September.
"Sometimes you need to refresh and forget about things," Drew said. "Get some extra work in the cage and kind of regroup. You definitely need that. He's anxious to get back in there and start working things out. Like it's been said, you can't go in there and get four hits in one at-bat. You take it an at-bat at a time and see how it goes. He really wants to kind of get his swing going, and I think he's probably tired of talking about it."
Though Ortiz's slump has been ongoing, the slugger hit rock-bottom last Thursday in Anaheim, going 0-for-7 and tying a franchise record by leaving 12 men on base.
Francona gave Ortiz the three days off in Seattle not as some type of punishment, but so that the slugger could get a mental break.
"The greatest thing in the world for him would be to get four hits tonight," Francona said. "If it doesn't happen, again, it's our responsibility to not lose patience [just because] everybody is screaming to lose patience. I don't know if that helps us. That's why when things aren't going perfect for him, we want to make sure he knows we're there for him. That's important."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.