Are Eight At-Bats Enough to Convict David Ortiz?

That was quick. The season is just eighteen innings old, but a big chunk of Sox fans have already had it with David Ortiz. Do they have a case?

Well, here is the resume: Eight plate appearances. One walk. One hard hit ball. One whiff and hitless in four shots with runners in scoring position.  Clearly, it has been a tough two days for Papi and the critics are pouncing.

“Why didn’t Francona use Lowell to pinch hit for Ortiz in the eighth last night?”

“Why is Francona starting Ortiz tonight against lefty Andy Pettite?”

“What is Lowell doing on the team if he isn’t going to be used?”

These are the questions that are flying around the “threads” this morning, as critics claim that poor David is done and defenders are countering by saying this conversation is at least two weeks premature. The Globe came down in the second camp, with not one, but two writers (Cafardo and Abraham) preaching patience. (Interestingly, Abraham, on Twitter last night, took a dig at Ortiz but turned an about face this morning.)

So where do I stand? Well, I am somewhere in the middle.

On the one hand, it is OBVIOUSLY too early to make a judgment on Ortiz. True, his first eight bats haven’t looked great. And yes, nobody wants to relive 2009 where Papi was miserable in April and even worse in May. But you have to give the guy some time. And remember, Ortiz eventually got hot in 2009 and had a pretty decent four months. He slugged over .650 in June, hit seven bombs in three consecutive months and was about an .900 OPS guy over the last four months of the season.  So from June 1 on, he gave the Sox a pretty good option at DH. Clearly he was not the same hitter he was from 03-07, but he was still a threat, particularly at Fenway. And because of that, I am not quite ready to pull the plug on big old number 34.

On the other hand, last season, Ortiz’ walk/strikeout ratio was way down, his ”isolated power” was way down and his BA on balls hit in play was way down (the result of much poorer contact).None of those are good things. Moreover, it turns out he hit a lot more fly balls last season but a much lower ratio of those left the yard. So less thump and more corn. All of this suggests a player in decline. As such, the wheels could fall off at any time so you can’t let a dog like Ortiz walk with a long leash.

So yes, I am concerned. Does that mean I would have pinch hit for Ortiz last night? Probably not since the Yankees might have countered with Chamberlin and that would have given the Sox a worse matchup. But would I sit Ortiz tonight? You betcha. And here’s why. The Sox will be facing right-handers for at least the next four games after tonight. Ortiz is likely to get all these starts unless Francona protects Ortiz by giving Hermida a shot against Greinke on Saturday night. So that means Mike Lowell gets to sit and collect dust. And if you aren’t going to hit Lowell against a lefty at Fenway, when are you going to use him?

So my play isn’t so much a response to Papi’s 0-7 start. Instead, I am looking at roster utilization. Unlike last July, the Sox have a bench this April. So why not use it? One of my concerns is Ortiz and Varitek will be used far too much this season, while Lowell and Hermida will be used far too little. So you can probably guess how I felt an hour ago when I read Francona plans on playing Ortiz tonight.

Remember how hard it was to get Ortiz out of the lineup last year. Well, it doesn’t look like it will be too much easier this go around.  And for those of you hoping to see Lowell play …… well, you better hope for an injury because if he can’t get a start at home and against a lefty, then he doesn’t figure much into Boston’s plans.

(But we knew that already, didn’t we?)


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