Hitting coach takes offense to concerns
Red Sox's lineup is balanced to score runs, Magadan says
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If anyone around the Red Sox has tunnel vision, it is hitting coach Dave Magadan, who finished Saturday's workout by pitching batting practice in the pouring rain, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Mother Nature was trying to tell him it was time to go inside.
But one external factor that hasn't gone unnoticed by Magadan is the perception that his team's offense will be a weak link this year. In fact, Magadan takes offense to that line of thinking.
What does the man who spends more time with Boston's batters than anyone else think about the prospects of the 2010 lineup?
"I'm excited, unlike a lot of the media outlets in the Boston area," Magadan said. "I think if guys do what they're capable of doing, we're going to be all right. We've got a nice balance throughout the lineup. We've got guys hitting at the bottom of the lineup who are going to help turn the lineup around and get on for the guys who are hitting at the top of the lineup. We've got a little more depth on the bench. I like what I'm seeing."
But he doesn't necessarily like what he's hearing from those in the public eye. In fact, he was a little bit taken aback by all of the criticism of an offense that won't play in a game that counts until April 4.
"I think initially the reaction was, 'Oh, we're not bringing back [Jason] Bay. How do you replace that?'" Magadan said. "Having Victor [Martinez] for the whole year and getting [Marco] Scutaro will solidify the bottom of the order, if he ends up hitting there. I was more taken aback by what was said about our offense last year. We were third in Major League Baseball in runs scored, and it's funny, because the Angels were known as an offensive juggernaut, and they scored  more runs than we did.
"I think a lot of it came from how we swung the bats in the postseason, the two games out in Anaheim. That kind of sticks in everybody's mind. You know, we'll see what happens. My job is the same no matter what, I think, going into the season. I've got to keep these guys ready and not let the chatter that's going around the team's offense not get in the way of what we need to do."
The hitters also hear the chatter Magadan speaks of, and, if anything, he thinks that can only be positive.
"I think they're upset about it, and I think they're taking it kind of like it's a challenge, and that's a good thing," Magadan said. "They're the type that they don't get outside what they normally do, no matter what the mind-set is. I think they've taken the attitude that they want to prove a lot of people wrong. That's a healthy attitude to have."
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One player who can change the perception of Boston's offense quicker than anyone else is David Ortiz, who can carry a team when he's right.
Because of a left wrist injury in 2008 and the worst slump of his career last year, Ortiz fell short of his lofty standards the past two seasons. Although some wonder whether Ortiz, now 34, is on a steady decline, Magadan thinks the lefty slugger can make a substantial rebound in '10.
"David looks as good as I've seen since I've been here," said Magadan, who has been Boston's hitting coach since 2007. "He's using the whole field from the get-go. I think in years past -- well, last year and the year before -- he came into camp and got a little pull happy and kind of lost his opposite-field stroke, and he kind of took that into the season.
"I think this year he's realized that's his bread and butter. He's still got enough bat speed where when the ball is on the inside half of the plate, he's going to be able to turn on it. He's got to be able to drive balls over and off the Monster to keep pitchers honest. Especially left-handed pitchers. Because they're bringing in lefties to face him, and in '07, he made those guys pay. He's done less of that over the last couple of years."
In 2007, Ortiz had 182 at-bats vs. lefties, hitting .308 with five homers and 33 RBIs. In '08, plagued by the wrist woes, he was down to .221 with five homers and 19 RBIs in 104 at-bats against southpaws. Last year? Ortiz hit .212 with six homers and 29 RBIs in 165 at-bats off lefties.
Whether it's lefties or righties, if Ortiz is belting the ball on a consistent basis, the Red Sox are a different team.
"He's a force," Magadan said. "When he's doing what he's capable of doing, he's a force to be reckoned with in the lineup, and whether he's hitting in the middle of the lineup or whether he's hitting sixth or wherever we end up putting him, he's going to drive in runs because there's going to be guys on. He's a big part of our offense. If we get him off to a good start, it's going to be a nice thing for us."
Another hitter who will offer great upside to Boston's batting order if he can have a rebound season is third baseman Adrian Beltre, who is an elite defender.
"I remember him in L.A. when I was in San Diego, and he was a monster," Magadan said. "He was a monster because he was using the whole field. I've already talked to him about it. I know that the Monster is tempting to make a right-hander a dead pull hitter. But even Mikey Lowell still used the whole ballpark to drive in runs. Yeah, his strength is pull power, but he still used right field to drive in those guys from second with less than two outs.
"That's what Adrian has to do, too. He's quick enough to where if you leave something on the inner half of the plate, he's going to pull it and hit it off or over the Monster. We have to play 81 games on the road, too. He's got to have the approach of driving the ball to the middle of the field and reacting to whatever he can pull."
The one newcomer Magadan can hit the ground running with is veteran center fielder Mike Cameron, whom he was with for a couple of months in San Diego during the 2006 season.
"Mike is a guy who can hit the ball a long way. He's got as much raw power as anyone on our team," Magadan said. "The key for him -- for me -- is to keep him aggressive. He can get a little too much guessing at the plate and kind of missing some fastballs he ordinarily would drive. I want him to be aggressive. He's a guy that will strike out a lot, but he'll walk a lot. I still want him to be thinking swinging the bat first, and then if it's a ball, take it, rather than take and take and take and then trying to swing, and then he's beat by the pitch. When he's in an aggressive mode, he still stays in the strike zone, and then he ends up driving the ball more."
The man who holds the ignition switch for the Boston batting order is leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury, who stole 70 bases last year but is still evolving as a hitter.
"I see him getting better and better every year," Magadan said. "He's starting to grow as a hitter as far as his mental approach at the plate. He went from a guy that was lining balls over the other team's dugout to starting to line the balls on the left side of the field, middle of the field, and then, later on in the year, he started turning on some balls and making pitchers pay. He eventually will turn into that hitter that will use the whole field, can drive the ball to any part of the ballpark, and the sky's the limit for him."
If Scutaro can come close to what he did with the Blue Jays last year, he could be an invaluable presence for the lower portion of the order.
"He kind of fits right into the mold of the kind of hitters we like. He works the count, he's not afraid to hit with two strikes, he'll take his walks, he'll use the whole field," Magadan said. "He's kind of a relentless at-bat up there, which is what [Kevin Youkilis is], what [Dustin Pedroia] is, and when David is good, he's relentless at the plate. Victor, when he's going good, he's relentless. When you have a whole lineup of guys like that, it wears on starting pitchers."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.