EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 28, 2009

Ortiz is at root of Sox problems

Bill Burt

BOSTON — David Ortiz owes 42-year-old John Smoltz a case of his favorite brew.

The Boston Red Sox slugger is in the midst of another "Big Floppy" streak (17 for 73, .233, in July), which has coincided somewhat with the Red Sox recent slide, and here we are at the trading deadline complaining about the fifth starter.

Let's leave Smoltz — I guess I'm on an island believing this guy will be very good, very soon — and his libations out of it for now and focus on the Big Fella.

From afar, Ortiz hasn't been "the problem" around here. His numbers are moving on up, with 12 homers and 36 RBI the last two months compared to one homer and 18 RBI the first two months.

His 12 homers over 42 games is tied for the best in the American League. Before going 0 for 4 on Sunday, he had a six-game hitting streak.

Comparatively, the Sox entered last night hitting .215 since the All-Star break.

Since the end of June, All-Stars Jason Bay (14-for-88, .159) and Kevin Youkilis (16-for-74, .216) entered this series lumbering at the plate after three months of MVP-candidate-like numbers. And JD "Disappointment" Drew (10-for-69, .145) has been a steady disappointment almost since opening day.

The pressure is on Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein to do something about it, but it's going to cost him. Starter Clay Buchholz will be part of some package of Red Sox prospects if a 30-homer, 120-RBI guy is added — San Diego's Adrien Gonzalez and Cleveland's Victor Martinez are the two probables in that department.

The issue with Gonzalez and Martinez is that they are first basemen. The Red Sox don't need first basemen. They need a designated hitter who can hit.

Hasn't the time come for Ortiz to hold down the fort, with something in the vicinity of a five-homer week, while the aforementioned stars do the expected and find their swings?

I'll answer my own question: Yes. In fact, it's long overdue.

I have other questions. When was the last memorable Ortiz hit/homer? Other than his first homer of the season, in May, I guess it would be the grand slam on July 6 in the 5-4 win over the A's.

What happened to the most "clutch hitter in Red Sox history?" Where has he been the last four months?

In a few days, it will officially be a full-season since Ortiz's security blanket, Manny Ramirez, walked through the tunnel in the Red Sox dugout. Since Ramirez was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ortiz is hitting .233 with 23 homers and 101 RBI, and that's including his 8 for 48 in the post season.

That's not good enough in this division. Not any more. The New York Yankees, now leading the division by 2 1/2 games, are in this until the bitter end and so are those pesky Tampa Bay Rays.

The plan wasn't for Epstein to send Buchholz & Co. elsewhere for a short-term slugger for the 2009 pennant drive. Epstein had bigger plans for Buchholz, be it preparing him to be near the top of the Red Sox rotation eventually or part of a deal that will change the face of the organization — see Blue Jays star pitcher Roy Halladay or the next great young catcher.

It's time for Ortiz to produce or, I hate to say this, he will not only be a role player (batting sixth or seventh) come September, but he won't be around in 2010.

And every nondescript day for Ortiz is another lost day as the trading deadline officially closes Friday.

Email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.