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Ortiz’s bat shows signs of life

Slugger hopes to build on homers

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / May 2, 2010

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BALTIMORE — Red Sox manager Terry Francona has taken to benching David Ortiz against lefthanded starters this season and has twice hit for the once-feared slugger.

But Francona has so far resisted the idea of pushing Ortiz farther out of the picture and had him hitting sixth last night against the Baltimore Orioles.

That faith was rewarded as Ortiz belted two solo home runs, the second a majestic shot to right-center that nearly landed on Eutaw Street. On a night when the Red Sox took an embarrassing 12-9 defeat, Ortiz batted away the idea that he is finished as a productive hitter.

“It’s a lot of work, man,’’ Ortiz said. “I’ve been working. It’s a long season, man. You know? Anything you can get.’’

The first homer was almost insignificant. The Orioles recalled Brad Bergesen from the minors to make the start and he served Ortiz a belt-high 91-mile-per-hour fastball in the second inning. Ortiz managed to put it in the first row of the seats in right field.

But the second homer, off lefthander Albert Castillo in the eighth inning, was impressive. The ball landed deep in the stands, 401 feet away. It was the 35th time Ortiz has hit multiple home runs in the same game.

“Tell you what, I know the first one he got enough to get out. But the second one, that was a good swing,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “The ball came off his bat. That’s encouraging.

“That’s why we’re playing him. I know it’s been a rough road. I’m not so interested in how far it goes. I just thought it was a real good swing. He’s big and strong enough. If he takes good swings, he’ll be all right.’’

Ortiz is hitting .167 with an anemic .254 on-base percentage. The walks he once collected in bunches have disappeared. Pitchers who once threw four balls out of the strike zone in fear now challenge Ortiz with fastballs.

But last night was a sign that Ortiz can still be hard to handle.

“That should get him some confidence. He needs to keep working. He can build on that,’’ Kevin Youkilis said. “It was good to see, that second swing especially. But it’s not about the home runs. He needs to get some singles and doubles here and there. Hopefully those home runs will take some of the focus off him.’’

Ortiz wondered whether Francona would hit for him in the eighth inning. But Mike Lowell kept his seat and Francona offered only encouragement.

“I was going to go to hit [Castillo] and Tito went like, ‘Let’s go David. Go and do your thing.’ As a player, as a hitter, that’s all you want to hear from your coach, confidence,’’ Ortiz said. “Go out and do your thing. . . . That was good.’’

With the Orioles starting righthander Kevin Millwood today, Ortiz is likely to stay in the lineup. He is 9 of 25 against Millwood with three home runs.

“We need him,’’ Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez said. “Hopefully this is a good sign for him. He had a few good swings and he has to have some confidence now. That’s what everybody needs.’’

Francona, who knows Ortiz well, was asked if the two home runs could spark a hot streak.

“You’d like to think so,’’ he said.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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