Another hot month?

Ortiz continues warming trend

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / June 18, 2010

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When David Ortiz fell into a slump to start the season, Red Sox manager Terry Francona didn’t wait long before using Mike Lowell as the designated hitter against lefthanders. He even pinch hit for Ortiz on several occasions, a move once considered unthinkable.

That Francona had lost some faith in him seemed to make matters worse for Ortiz, whose spirit fell as quickly as his batting average.

Ortiz rebounded dramatically and was named the American League Player of the Month for May. That earned him the right to face lefties again and led to Francona admitting that he had perhaps acted too quickly earlier.

So when Ortiz started this month with three hits in his first 33 at-bats, Francona didn’t budge. He even left Ortiz hitting third in the order for most games.

“I had to figure it out for myself,’’ Ortiz said. “That’s the way it always has been. Let me figure it out because I’m going to do that. I wasn’t worried. But I appreciate Tito doing what he did.’’

The belief in Ortiz is proving to be well-founded. He had two hits, drew two walks, and drove in two runs last night to help the Sox to an 8-5 victory over the Diamondbacks.

Ortiz is 11 of 23 in the last six games with 6 extra-base hits, 4 walks, and 8 RBIs. The surge has boosted his batting average from .237 to .266.

“I’m just hitting the damn ball where’s nobody’s at,’’ Ortiz said. “I was hitting some line drives before but they were at people. You give it time and it starts to change.’’

Ortiz had an infield single in the first inning, a dribbler to third base. But when he came to the plate with a runner on and two outs in the third, he hit one of his hardest shots of the season.

Facing Arizona starter Dan Haren, Ortiz fouled off two 3-and-2 pitches before lining a cut fastball to center field. The ball looked destined to hit the wall but it landed in the seats. That gave the Sox a 3-2 lead.

“I hit that good,’’ Ortiz said as he quickly dressed after the game, keeping an eye on the Celtics game. “I killed it.’’

What impressed Francona was Ortiz’s ability to work the count and hit the ball to center against a pitcher like Haren.

“He looks like the old David, he really does. He’s taking some ferocious swings. The ball’s coming off his bat. You can tell he feels good about himself,’’ Francona said.

“We need that. We’ve said it all along, we’re a different team when he’s swinging the bat like that.’’

It was the 14th home run of the season for Ortiz. He now has 331 for his career, matching Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg for 92d on the all-time list.

Ortiz has hit 273 of his home runs for the Sox, one shy of matching Manny Ramirez for fifth in team history. Ramirez and the Dodgers arrive at Fenway Park today for a three-game series.

Ortiz’s hot streak has coincided with the Sox winning five of six and moving within two games of first place in the American League East. That’s the closest they’ve been since April 14.

“We’re looking good,’’ Ortiz said. “But there are a lot of games left.’’

The next challenge for Ortiz will be a six-game stretch of interleague road games that starts Tuesday in Colorado. With the DH not available, Francona will have to be creative to get Ortiz at-bats.

“I’m not too worried about it,’’ Ortiz said. “I’ll get my chances.’’

Ortiz recently received his Player of the Month trophy and has it prominently displayed above his locker.

“Take a picture of that,’’ he said. “Now go home and watch the Celtics. That’s what Big Papi says.’’

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