The Red Sox scored eight runs Sunday in beating the Royals, 8-6, Sunday afternoon in their series finale at Kaufmann Stadium. It was second straight game in which the Sox plated eight. They have now scored the seventh-most runs in the major leagues, have the fourth-best team batting average, and third-highest slugging percentage.
Oh, and David Ortiz struck out four times.
What do you think people are talking about heading into the Red Sox' series in Minnesota?
Ortiz has struck out in eight of his last nine at-bats. He has two hits in 18 at-bats (.111) with just one RBI. Julio Borbon (.048), Milton Bradley (.048), Jay Bruce (.053), Gerald Laird (.056), Mark Teahen (.071), Lyle Overbay (.087), Hunter Pence (.095), David Eckstein (.100), and Marlon Byrd (.105) are all regulars who are carrying worse batting averages than Ortiz.
None of them are on teams riding the offensive success of the Red Sox, yet none of them also seem to be carrying the weight of the worries like Ortiz.
So with all of that said, the question has to be asked: How important is it to make a definitive statement, or decision, regarding Ortiz at this juncture of the season? Some things to consider while letting that query percolate:
1. Look at recent history. Here are some Red Sox batting averages on April 12 in the last few years: 2006, Alex Gonzalez, 4-for-27 (.148); '06, Manny Ramirez, 6-for-28 (.214); '07, Coco Crisp, 4-for-28 (.143); '07, Ortiz, 6-for-29 (.207); '07, Ramirez, 6-for-28 (.214); '08, Ortiz, 3-for-43 (.070); '08, Mike Lowell, 6-for-30 (.200); '09, J.D. Drew, 2-for-16 (.125); '09, Dustin Pedroia, 4-for-24 (.167); '09, Lowell, 4-for-23 (.174); '09, Ortiz, 4-for-20 (.200).
What do all of these players have in common? None of them were taken out of the starting lineup, or even thrust into any kind of platoon.
2. There was a report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Sunday that stated the friends of Ortiz "say the Red Sox slugger's left wrist is hurting, though he refuses to make excuses."
3. Ortiz is seeing an incredible number of pitches. Sunday he saw 30 of them in his five at-bats, lifting the number of pitches he is seeing per plate appearance to 5.10, well above the second-most patient hitter on the Red Sox, Victor Martinez (4.50). He is second on the team in percentage of pitches taken (66.7 percent), leads the club in percentage of swings that miss (47.1 percent), and has only put 8.8 percent of the balls he swings at in play, third-worst in the majors.
4. Not only is right-handed Mike Lowell looming as a possible designated hitter option, but Jeremy Hermida has looked formidable from the left side.
Ortiz is hitting .571 against the starter the Twins send out Monday, Carl Pavano. He will undoubtedly be in the lineup. The Red Sox are scoring, so patience is still in the air. But …
It's not the most important story not he Red Sox (because, unlike the bullpen, there are built-in solutions at the ready), but it is the most talked about. Ortiz knew it might be coming, and here it is.
Here are four more things we learned Sunday heading into the first regular season game at the new home of the Twins:
ABOUT THAT BULLPEN
One step forward, one back.
Manny Delcarmen is figuring things out, a fact that was put on display in his two scoreless innings Sunday. His fastball velocity touched 95 mph and sat at 94 mph, significantly better than anything he showed in spring training. He also showed a confidence in his secondary stuff that could complete the resurgence, throwing his changeup on seven of the outing's 27 pitches.
His middle-relief brethren, however, was another story.
Ramon Ramirez had one of his worst outings as a member of the Red Sox, allowing three runs on three hits (primarily due to a Jose Guillen three-run bomb), while not retiring a single batter.
Ramirez has pitched now three times, allowing five runs on five hits while walking one and getting a total of four outs.
Right now, the Sox have a middle-of-the-road bullpen, with a combined ERA of 5.12 (20th in the majors). Somewhat surprisingly, the group has the seventh-most walks of any 'pen (10), a stat the team usually prioritizes when it comes to relievers. In high leverage situations, they are relying on three guys (Hideki Okajima, Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon), that's it. The rest of the time has to be earned, which is what Delcarmen took his stab at Sunday.
After getting the call Sunday, Bard shares the major league lead for most appearances by a reliever this season (5), while sitting behind only three other relief pitchers in terms of total innings pitched (5). The righty has also thrown the sixth-most pitches of any reliever (79).
PEDROIA IS USING THE WHOLE FIELD (AND THEN SOME)
Yes, Pedroia is leading the team in home runs (3) after turning on a high, inside fastball from KC starter Gil Meche Sunday. But what might have truly stood out in the second baseman's four-hit performance was where he placed his other three hits.
The Sox' No. 2 hitter lined two singles into center, and one into right. It continued a trend that has seen Pedroia place all five of his singles this season either straight away or the other way.
BELTRE IS STILL SWINGING, AND USUALLY CONNECTING
We referenced how Ortiz is putting just 8.8 percent of his pitches in play, well Adrian Beltre is on the other end of the spectrum. The third baseman has put 29.5 percent of the balls he sees in play (fourth most in the majors).
The approach continues to pay off as Beltre, after notching two more hits Sunday, is hitting .400 in 20 at-bats (having still not reached a three-ball count).
When looking at the lineup, basically the spot Beltre is occupying from last year is that of Alex Gonzalez, the one player in an otherwise ultra-patient who takes a different tact from most of his teammates. Gonzalez (he of the four homers with Toronto) is right behind Beltre in the percentage of balls he puts in play, sitting at 28.9 percent.
WHAT TO MAKE OF BUCHHOLZ
Clay Buchholz gets somewhat of a free pass for his up-and-down, five-inning, three-run outing. Other than a simulated game, he hadn't faced live hitters in nine days.
But the fact remains that this rotation still reeks of competition, and Tim Wakefield hasn't flinched a bit through spring training or his initial outing. Sunday on the other hand, Buchholz did hiccup, at least a tiny bit.
The starter appeared uneasy for much of the outing, allowing at least one runner to reach in each of his five frames. Part of the problem was flat-out command, as was evidenced by Buchholz only getting 11 first-pitch strikes out of his 24 batters.
Despite the discomfort that came with the time off, Buchholz needs to produce while Daisuke Matsuzaka weaves his way through the minors. If he doesn't? A return to the minors isn't out of the question, or perhaps he could offer a solution to the Sox' bullpen woes, a subject he addressed in spring training.
“That topic never came up, or hasn’t come up yet,” Buchholz said of the possibility of morphing into a reliever at some point. “Obviously, I’m preparing to be a starter and that’s basically what they told me, wanting me to throw a lot of innings this year. Whether that’s starting or coming out of the bullpen, I don’t really care at this point. I just want to break camp and be with the team and finally get a full season of straight major league ball under my belt.
“I want to start. The mindset of a starter and the mindset of a bullpen guy are two totally different positions, and I didn’t really understand that until I made a couple of bullpen appearances. Your mind is in a different spot. You haven’t set up a batter two at-bats already and then heading into a third at-bat. It’s a different atmosphere.”