FORT MYERS, Fla. — The sight of David Ortiz‘s maple bat exploding violently is not what captured the attention of Red Sox manager John Farrell in the slugger’s second at-bat Thursday at JetBlue Park. It was the sight of him legging out a fielder’s choice that drove in Mookie Betts from third base.
The ball dribbled far enough out to the right of second baseman Eduardo Escobar that he flipped onto the shortstop to put out Dustin Pedroia. But Danny Santana’s throw was not in time to get Ortiz at first.
Testing his “wheels” — as Ortiz put it afterward — was a big test for the designated hitter to pass after missing the last 10 days due to general soreness and dehydration that had zapped so much strength from his legs. Ortiz was cautiously optimistic that Thursday’s 5-4 10-inning win over the Twins at JetBlue Park as a step in the right direction for him.
“It felt all right,” Ortiz said after going 0-for-3 with a strikeout. “I’m just trying to get that feeling of running.”
“Good to see them back in the lineup, for one,” Farrell said. “I thought David took some good swings, but we’ve got 10 days remaining and they’re going to get ample at-bats before we break here. The fact is the next step back after a little bit of downtime for both, and I think it’ll be good to get some continuity in our lineup.”
Ortiz wasn’t the only player returning as Mike Napoli batted in a game for the first time since an ankle injury shut him down on Mar. 18. Napoli also struck out in his first at-bat in the second inning but responded with a single in the third. Napoli finished 1-for-2.
“He got down the line well, kept from being doubled up,” Farrell said of Ortiz. “I think it was an indication that the soreness he’s been dealing with, he’s feeling better, and that was the case with some baserunning the last couple of days. So a productive day for both.”
Ortiz’s timing looked understandably off at the plate in his first at-bat of the day against lefty Tommy Milone as he struck out swinging. He would later pop out to short to end his day without a hit.
“That’s what the game is all about. But I’m really not worried about that right now,” Ortiz said of his swing. “I’m worried about making sure the wheels are what I want them to be. Those are the kind of tests you want to get through. It’s all right.”
So how is his swing?
“Like usual, horse[bleep] by now,” Ortiz said of his annual spring training warmup.
Ortiz was asked if there was a stopwatch on his sprint to first base in the third.
“Hopefully not but those the the things I want to get going so I’m good for the season and of course, face live pitching.
What’s the next step?
“We’ll see how I feel [Friday] and go from there.”
Ortiz, who has been staying behind and taking BP in Fort Myers, will not be making the trip to Orlando for Friday’s game against the Braves. Saturday in Port Charlotte is still up in the air.
Thursday’s game was won in the bottom of the tenth when Rusney Castillo, fighting with Shane Victorino and Daniel Nava for a spot in right field, homered with one out to end the contest. The ball barely cleared the red line atop the Monster and bounced back onto the field, tricking Castillo into sliding into the second base until the third base umpire circled his finger to end the game.
“Yeah, in fact, because that happened to me at the end of last season, where it was close and it ended up being a double,” Castillo said. “I actually slid in to second and it wasn’t until I got up from my slide that I noticed the guy had called it a homer.”
What impressed Farrell is that Castillo hit a breaking pitch to end the game.
“Even more exciting to see it was on a breaking ball where they expanded the zone on him with some sliders,” Farrell said. “But he was looking for that pitch on the first pitch of the at-bat, and it’s clear he’s got some power. Timely, nonetheless.”
“I’m glad I was able to make an adjustment,” Castillo said. “I had expanded a little bit and it felt good to be able to square up a breaking ball. I do like those situations. I’m always focused but it’s like I zone in a little more. I’ve always liked those situations. It’s definitely gratifying, especially given I came up a little short in the previous at-bat with the bases loaded. It was nice to kind of pick up my team and be able to have that at-bat be a home run, especially to decide the game.”
As for the battle with Nava and Victorino or an outfield spot of any kind, Farrell said Castillo’s impressive spring (.400/2 HRs in four games) won’t make his decision any more difficult.
“I don’t know that he’s making it a difficult decision,” Farrell said. “He’s a good player, we’ve got a number of good players, and we’ll take every day of spring training to settle on who our Opening Day roster is going to be.”
“I’ve been playing both center and right field in Cuba for a long time, so it’s not a new position to me,” said Castillo, who appeared to be a bit hung up on a fly to right field in the seventh that turned into a triple. “On that play, it was just one of those plays, I just didn’t grab it. But no, I’m not having any sort of difficulty adjusting to a new position or anything like that. at least not to this point.
“I think I’m pretty close to where I want to be, especially recently coming back from an [oblique] injury. What’s been helpful is to continue to have my disciplined routine and not just in the cages with the medical staff and everything. I feel pretty close to where I want to be.”
Other notes from Thursday:
John Farrell left the door open that Koji Uehara could possibly be back pitching in games as soon as this Monday if his training program and bullpen work goes well this weekend.
“The plan is for him to get on the mound on Saturday,” Farrell said. “Today there was more intensity to his running, roughly 60-70 percent intensity. Following the off-day, today was a sizable step forward with Koji.”
One change to the rotation for this weekend: Rick Porcello will pitch Saturday in the minor league game in Fort Myers while, Steven Wright – a candidate to start the season as the fifth starter – will pitch on Saturday against the Rays in Port Charlotte.
“To get one day removed from two others that are starting on Friday in Buchholz and Joe Kelly, and a chance to see Steven against another opponent in our division,” Farrell said.