Slumping Papi gets night off
Mired in major slump, slugger sits finale of Yankees series
BOSTON -- With Big Papi in a big slump, Red Sox manager Terry Francona simply decided that the time was right to give David Ortiz the night off on Sunday. This, even though the opponent happened to be the New York Yankees.
Ortiz is in the depths of arguably his worst slump since going from platoon player to the icon known as Big Papi.
Consider that his .070 average (3-for-43) is the lowest among Major League qualifiers. He is hitless in his last 17 at-bats and has just one hit in his last 29 at-bats.
Francona told Ortiz following Saturday's game that he would be off for the rubber match of this three-game series against the Yankees. As competitive as he is, Ortiz didn't seem to resist the idea.
"You know, I'm just trying to figure things out for a minute so I can go back to being Big Papi again," said Ortiz. "You see this in baseball, a guy having a hard time, [the manager tells him to] go home, chill out, come back with a fresh mind. It happens to everybody. And I guess that's when managers know when they need to bring something like that to the table. I always do what Terry tells me to do. I'm an employee."
When Ortiz walked in to the clubhouse door on Sunday afternoon, he looked visibly more relaxed than over the last few days.
After initially declining to speak to reporters -- "It's my full day off today. I ain't talking." -- Ortiz changed his mind a little later and spoke for about eight minutes.
Despite the slump, Ortiz was in a good mood. He explained that psychology was probably a bigger issue for him at this time than mechanics.
"This game is very mental. Your mind takes over," Ortiz said. "I can tell you myself, I know that in my situation, my mind works more than everything else because it's been like that my whole career. I think, mentally, the percentage is more of what you use in the game than physically.
"This game, after you get prepared physically, you let the mind take over. Sometimes when you're fighting, fighting, fighting, fighting, this is the time when the mind gets some time off and regroups and goes back to normal. If you just keep on hitting and hitting and hitting, it takes longer for you to recover or whatever. I guess that's why managers make those kinds of decisions with their players. You can see the results later on."
Francona felt it was common sense.
"I just think it's the right thing to do," said Francona. "He came in today with kind of a little bounce to his step, a little more light-hearted than he's been. He'll have a good work day and then he can take a little bit of a mental [day off]. I think it's gotten to the point where it's building, where he needed a break. That's the best way to put it.
"I think he woke up this morning knowing he wasn't going to play and he can go get his work done. It's never a lot of fun to not have his presence in the lineup, but I think it's the best thing to do."
With Ortiz out of the mix, Manny Ramirez moved to designated hitter and Jacoby Ellsbury played left field. J.D. Drew moved into Ortiz's No. 3 spot in the batting order.
Slump and all, Yankees manager Joe Girardi probably didn't mind Ortiz's absence.
"That is kind of different," Girardi said. "Obviously it just shows that even the greatest players are human some days."
If there is one thing that every hitter in baseball has in common, it's that somewhere along the line, they've gone through what Ortiz is battling at this very moment.
"We've all been there," said Red Sox first baseman Sean Casey. "That's the bottom line. That's the nature of this beast, the nature of the game. ... I've been there a few times in my career where you can't get hits. If you hit the ball hard, it's caught. You can't find hits. It becomes just a battle of the mind."
Ortiz said that his surgically repaired right knee is not the issue.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Ortiz said. "I'm not like I would like to be, but I'm OK."
Can Ortiz pinpoint the problem?
"I know exactly what I'm doing wrong right now and everything is right here," said Ortiz, as he pointed to his head. "I'll work on that. I've been [messed] up before. Big time."
Did he want to share the recent flaws in his swing with reporters?
"No, I don't want nobody to know," Ortiz said. "It's bad, it's bad. I'll fix it. I'll be all right. I'm just going to chill and try to get baseball a little bit out of [my mind] for a minute."
There will likely become a point this season when Ortiz's slump will be a distant memory to just about everybody.
"David has been one of the best hitters in baseball for the last so many years and at the end of this year, I promise you, he'll be one of the best hitters in baseball this year," said Casey. "That's just who he is. He will be what he is when this is all said and done."
And if Sunday's game is on the line in the bottom of the ninth?
"You know where he's at," said Girardi. "He's not hard to miss over there. There might come a situation where they would hit him. As a manager, when you have that, you try to pick the right situation. Some nights it comes up, some nights it doesn't come up. But you have that card in your deck."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.