For Red Sox, questions -- and perhaps answers -- about protecting David Ortiz

July 03, 2013 - 8:35 pm
Twice Wednesday night, the Padres pitched around David Ortiz. Twice, they were successful. In the third inning of the Red Sox'€™ eventual 2-1 win, Ortiz came to the plate with first base open and two men on. Edinson Volquez gave him the free pass in favor of pitching to Daniel Nava, who promptly rolled a grounder to shortstop. The Padres faced a similar scenario in the eighth, and the Red Sox met a similar fate. Right-hander Nick Vincent walked Ortiz to put runners on first and second with no one out. Nava, Mike Carp and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were retired in order. Nava was only in those situations, however, because Mike Napoli had the night off. Mired in a power outage that has left him with one extra-base hit in the last month, Napoli rode the bench while Carp filled the void at first and Nava did so batting fifth behind Ortiz. Despite the lineup tweak, the lack of production that has been so prominent since Napoli cooled off after a hot start '€” he has collected 10 RBIs with a .230 average and .243 slugging mark since he last homered June 1 '€” was still present, underscored by the pair of intentional walks to Ortiz. While Ortiz lacked successful protection Wednesday night, two alternatives may have presented themselves '€” or at least made an unspoken case for doing so '€” in the form of Carp and Jonny Gomes. Gomes, again the hero with his pinch-hit, walkoff home run to lead off the ninth, has been hot the last month, posting a .333 average with an .896 OPS mark. Seven of his 16 hits in that span have been for extra bases (five doubles, two homers). He doesn'€™t play every day, but when he does get in the lineup he contributes, having driven in eight runs his last eight games. John Farrell acknowledged as much, saying Gomes has been particularly consistent since the team'€™s trip to Philadelphia the last week of May. '€œHis career shows that mid-season on is when he starts to really have things click for him, and that'€™s been the case,'€ Farrell said. '€œHe has a clear understanding of what the opposition is trying to do to him. A given pitcher, he'€™s looking for a certain pitch in certain spots. '€¦ He'€™s going in to look for the out pitch and fortunately he got it tonight.'€ Gomes said playing consistently helps him stay in a groove, and that coming in late off the bench can be difficult. '€œI definitely don'€™t want any pats on the back, but it'€™s definitely tough,'€ he said. '€œIt'€™s why we get here at 2 o'€™clock for a 7 o'€™clock game '€” to get ready. When you get here at 2 and get in at 10, it'€™s a lot different.'€ Carp, meanwhile, played for just the fourth time in 17 days Wednesday night, but he made the most of it '€” just as Farrell anticipated he would. '€œWe'€™ve had a hard time getting him on the field, but when we can get him in the lineup, he'€™s given us a potent left-handed bat capable of extra-base hits,'€ the manager said pregame. Carp finished his night 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored, and his read of a Jarrod Saltalamacchia Wall-ball double in the fourth proved particularly important as he scored from first. He hits righties (.323/.389/.688) significantly better than he does lefties (.235/.278/.412), and his playing time is suited to that. Carp said he understands that role. '€œOur bench is talented. We can plug guys in any spot, any lineup and guys are going to try to get the job done and do the best they can,'€ Carp said. '€œI'€™m in the lineup to get four at-bats, try to do some damage, try to get some runs and win a ball game. That'€™s what I'€™m going to do every time I'€™m out there." Still, Gomes suggested the solution to getting production out of the five-hole again could be right in front of them: Napoli. Napoli'€™s .522 slugging percentage, seven homers and 34 RBIs were crucial through the first month and a half of the season. '€œYou can'€™t be dangerous one through nine. Where would we be without Napoli'€™s first month that he had? He hit fourth and threw eight guys on his back and carried us and that was without Big Papi,'€ Gomes said. '€œThere are two hitters in all of major league baseball that don'€™t slump, and that'€™s the NL MVP and the AL MVP, and that'€™s it. Everyone else is up and down all year." At the least, the Red Sox can hope that they are now ready to ride some mid-year surges in the middle of their lineup, whether Napoli, Gomes or Carp.