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Seems like old times: Ortiz struggling again

By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / August 14, 2009

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In the ninth inning yesterday, David Ortiz came to the plate with an opportunity to change the game, a prospect that currently carries little optimism.

Against Detroit reliever Fernando Rodney, he tried to check his swing on a pitch outside and nowhere near the strike zone. He could not hold back, and he walked back to the dugout, a common sight early in the year becoming more frequent lately.

The slump that shackled Ortiz for the first two months of the season has seemingly returned. Ortiz has four hits — all singles — and nine strikeouts in his last 41 at-bats. He’s hitting .114 in August. His average has fallen back to .218, its lowest point since June 26. Ortiz might be as bad now as he was to begin the season.

Yesterday, Ortiz had one of his worst days of the season. He went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and a popup, going down on strikes three times in one game for the seventh time this season.

‘‘I’m swinging the bat,’’ Ortiz said. ‘‘It’s not happening.’’

Ortiz was asked if he felt the way he did earlier in the season, when he was hitting as low as .185 into the first day of June.

‘‘I don’t know, man,’’ Ortiz said. ‘‘I just got to keep on swinging. That’s all I can do.’’

One thing is different now. Ortiz must contend with the report about his name appearing on the list of players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. Last weekend, he addressed the media on the subject. When manager Terry Francona gave Ortiz the next night off, he said Ortiz looked emotionally and physically exhausted.

‘‘I’ll be all right,’’ Ortiz said yesterday. ‘‘My mind is a little busy. But you got to keep on playing, right?’’

Right? It’s possible that as the Sox head into a tight race for the playoffs, Ortiz could lose playing time. The Sox have a logjam with Ortiz, Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell, Casey Kotchman, and Jason Varitek to fill four spots every day. Once Youkilis comes back from his five-game suspension, the Sox will have plenty of options.

Before his recent nosedive, Ortiz had cobbled together two productive months, mostly while batting in the middle of the lineup. From June 2 to July 31, Ortiz hit .280 with 14 home runs and a .591 slugging percentage. Since the revelation about his 2003 test results, though, he has reverted to his form from early in the year.

Yesterday, Francona chalked up Ortiz’s brutal game to swing mechanics and two electric fastball pitchers, Rodney and Justin Verlander.

‘‘I thought today, he was a little bit long [in his swing],’’ Francona said. ‘‘Against a guy who throws 100, if you’re not perfect ... Jason Bay came into this game feeling real good about himself, and you saw what he did. We ran into a guy with exceptional stuff today.’’

A second’s rest

Dustin Pedroia received a day off, his first since July 6. Pedroia did not play only to avoid fatigue, not for any reason pertaining to injury. He is 3 for his last 22 with six walks and a home run, and his average has dropped to .298.

‘‘He’s played a lot of games in a row,’’ Francona said. ‘‘He looked to me like he needs it. I talked to him the other day. I said, ‘You need a day off.’ He started fighting me on it.

‘‘I kind of overruled him. It’s hard to play without him, because he’s so good. But I think you can make a mistake. When a guy needs it, he needs it. I think it will do him good.

‘‘I think he eventually realizes it, and then I really know he needs it. I think the timing is right. He’s such a good player that you want him to play every single minute of every single game. But I think this will do him good.’’

Chris Woodward replaced Pedroia and batted ninth, submitting an odd 0-for-1 line — twice being hit by a pitch and then flying out to right.

Standing pat

The Red Sox did not alter their roster for the entire four-game series against the Tigers, a refreshing development after adding and removing players for the final five days of their recent road trip. ‘‘It certainly helps,’’ Francona said. ‘‘That may not be able to stay that way, but things have calmed down a little bit. Some of these guys, they’re on the road and their families are in transit. There’s a lot going on.’’

Pitched battle

Red Sox starters have combined for a 2.00 ERA over the past seven games, but the Sox have gone only 3-4 ... Martinez stole a base for only the second time in his career, swiping second with Josh Reddick on third in the first inning. His first career steal came in July 2003 ... Reddick, who hit second, doubled in the first. Of Reddick’s six major league hits, four are doubles and one is a home run.

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