Truth be told, Tuesday night was a tough one to figure out.
After watching the Red Sox' 5-2 loss to the Twins, at the Metrodome in Minnesota, deciphering what to make of it wasn't cut and dried.
David Ortiz? He had a hit and good batting practice. He also had a couple of moments that trended the other way.
Jon Lester? He insisted one pitch ruined an otherwise positive performance. There were, however, a few more bumps in the road within his six-inning outing besides Justin Morneau's three-run homer than the lefty would have liked.
The middle of the order? Was it just an off day, or could it be attributed to the Ortiz-induced rearrangement, with J.D. Drew hitting third (0-for-3), Kevin Youkilis staying at cleanup (1-for-4, 3 strikeouts), and Bay sliding up to fifth (0-for-4)?
Well here are five things we learned in the loss (I think) ...
IT WORKED BETTER FIVE YEARS AGO
The last time Red Sox manager Terry Francona slid Ortiz down into the sixth spot in the batting order was May 11, 2004 when he chose to go with the 3-4-5 combination of Kevin Millar, Manny Ramirez, and Jason Vartiek to counteract then-Cleveland lefty CC Sabathia.
It paid off, with Ortiz notching three hits that day.
This time around the results were uneven, to be kind.
The Sox' DH ripped a 3-2 Nick Blackburn two-seamer right down the heart of hte plate into the right-center field gap in his first at-bat, legging out a double for his first hit since last Wednesday. (Interesting enough -- or maybe not -- but it was just the 28th time this season Ortiz has led off an inning, having now totaled four hits, three of which have been doubles. It was also only his sixth plate appearance in the second inning this season).
The next at-bat resulted in walk, which clearly had Ortiz walking with a spring in his step. It was the kind of confidence some believed was in the works after the slugger took what both Francona and hitting coach Dave Magadan identified as perhaps his most impressive batting practice in years.
But then came a third at-bat which saw Ortiz react late to a Blackburn offering on the outside edge of the plate, resulting in a strikeout. The DH then finished off his day by popping out to left field.
Unlike Mets pitchers over the weekend, the Twins' hurlers mixed in offspeed stuff with their fastballs, living primarily on the outside part of the strike zone.
So, was Day 1 of the Red Sox' latest approach to rediscovering the old Ortiz a success? This time there simply wasn't enough evidence one way or another.
"I thought his at-bats were OK," Francona told reporters after the game. "The biggest things for me was he didn't look frustrated."
And the player's thoughts on his newest lot in life...
"I'm an employee," Ortiz told reporters following his showing. "I follow orders."
A DOWNTURN FOR BAY
Bay still looks the part.
The Red Sox left fielder remains the only player on the team to have taken the field in every one of the Sox' games this season, and when he steps to the plate there is still the impression that good things are going to happen.
The problem is that, of late, appearances have been somewhat deceiving.
But there was a reason the Sox didn't jump in and re-start negotiations with Bay back on May 10 when his batting average reached .324. It didn't make good business sense considering you would have been buying the player's peak value.
Now, in the 14 games that have passed Bay has hit .200, with his once-prodigous walk rate dipping two six in 61 plate appearances. Up until that point he had 28 free passes through the first 25 games.
The approach has seemingly been somewhat different, as well, with Bay seeing a gaudy 4.22 pitches per plate appearance up through May 10, and 3.74 after.
Just like there shouldn't have been calls for Teixeira-esque contracts and AL MVP trophy engraving after that first stretch, Bay's recent bump in the road shouldn't be of too much concern. He did get two hits in the series' opener, and lined a shot down the third-base line Tuesday which Minnesota third baseman Brendan Harris made a stellar play on.
SMOLTZ IS PUSHING THE ISSUE
John Smoltz will be pitching for Single-A Greenville when his original target date for a return, June 1, comes and goes. But if Tuesday night in Manchester, N.H. is any indication, he wasn't far off when identifying a timetable for his return.
After pitching 3 1/3 innings for Double A Portland, giving up three hits and a run while striking out two and not walking a batter. He threw 60 pitches (36 strikes). It was enough to continue down a road which will have Smoltz throw for Greenville Sunday, before making two starts with Triple-A Pawtucket before he eyes a June 16 start at Fenway Park against the Florida Marlins.
"I think that would be a good gauge if the progress continues this way," Smoltz told reporters at Merchantsauto.com Stadium. "The hardest part of my job is to not think ahead and not think about getting big league hitters out. It would be dangerous to do that right now, thinking about my pitches today, because they're all going to get a little sharper and all the intensity is going to cause it to go up a little bit."
With two days off between now and June 16, that start would right now fall in Brad Penny's spot in the rotation. For what it's worth, the first day the Red Sox would be eligible to trade Penny (because he signed as a free agent) would be the 15th, although scaling back on the workload of other members of the rotation could also offer a possible opening for Smoltz' return.
"We're not going to make our rotation out 21 days ahead of time," Francona told reporters.
LESTER IS STILL SEARCHING
Lester took a step back Tuesday.
This was Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell following the lefty's last start, a 6 1/3-inning, one-run showing against Toronto: "I think the one thing he did much better tonight, even when there were borderline calls he did not get, he did not let that effect his thought process and execution from that point forward. That's probably the biggest outward sign of confidence, saying, 'OK, I made that pitch one time and I can make it again.'"
And this was Lester's analysis regarding the same performance: "You hit a little bit of a rough patch, you think you can't get anybody out, so you need to just get back to the basics of throwing strikes and throwing to halves of the plate instead of just trying to throw blacked out pitches every time. Like I said, we can take a lot from this start and build off of it and hopefully carry it over."
And it looked for a while like he was carrying over his newfound resilience.
Four of Lester's six innings saw Minnesota get the leadoff man on. And for five of those frames the Sox' starter persevered. Yet it was once again that one inning -- this time the fifth -- which proved to be the hurler's downfall.
The biggest miscue, by far, came when Justin Morneau turned around a 93-mph fastball which was meant to burrow in on the lefty hitter a bit more than it did. The result was the Twins' slugger rifling a line-drive over the baggy in right field for a game-changing three-run homer.
But while most in the Sox' clubhouse identified the Morneau blast as the preeminent fly in the ointment, it did come in an inning that included three other hits (including an RBI single from the brother-in-law of Patriots offensive lineman Nick Kazcur, Nick Punto) and a walk.
Lester has gone into the fifth inning in each of his 10 starts this season, but coming into Tuesday night he had allowed opponents a .429 batting average and .833 slugging percentage in the fifth. It didn't get any better.
He also has thrown the most pitches of any starter on the Red Sox, totaling 1,044 (12th in the majors), or 104.4 per game. This one year after totaling 3,738 including both the regular season and postseason.
Still Lester's stuff seems to be there, but the results simply aren't. Besides the fact he sits with a 3-5 record with a 6.07 ERA, hitters are totaling a .307 batting average against him, and his ERA this month stands at 6.75.
"One pitch cost me three runs -- that was the ballgame right there," Lester told reporters. "I felt like I threw the ball pretty well; made one mistake."
JACOBY ELLSBURY HAS GROWN INTO HIS ROLE
Ellsbury has a 21-game hitting streak, is hitting .303, and made one of the best catches of the season in the fifth inning when he dove to catch Delmon Young's blast at the warning track.
Coco Crisp left Tuesday night's game with a sore shoulder and a .233 batting average. (Although he had performed decently for the Royals with a respectable .344 on-base percentage and 11 steals.)
Bottom line: When it comes to the decision to go all-in with Ellsbury, there have been few regrets.