David Ortiz

Dave Magadan knows better than most how David Ortiz can start hitting lefties again

Rob Bradford
May 21, 2015 - 8:59 am

This might be the worst stretch against left-handers David Ortiz has ever endured. The Red Sox designated hitter has just six hits in 44 at-bats against lefties (.136), with not a single walk. Not even at was perceived to be his low point against southpaws, throughout the 2009 and '10 seasons, was it this bad. In '09, when he finished the year with a career-worst .212 clip against left-handers, Ortiz only dipped below .200 for two games the entire season. And a year later, when the troubles led left his average vs. lefties at .222, his low point was .175 in early June. As former Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan remembered Wednesday, those were the days of panic for some predicting the downturn as the beginning of Ortiz's end. "If you remember, there was a clamoring of should we release him, is he done," the current Rangers hitting coach said. "There was a lot of talk about that. They were talking about his bat speed and all that. But I remember distinctly telling him, '€˜David, you take BP with guys throwing 50 mph. If you didn'€™t have bat speed you couldn'€™t hit balls where you do in BP and we'€™re going to look back at this moment and we'€™re going to laugh. We'€™re going to use it to make you better down the line because this is going to make you a better hitter, a better player. As tough as you are, it'€™s going to make you'€™re tougher.'€™ He ended up proving all the doubters wrong." Ortiz evidently took the pep talk to heart, going on to hit a combined .293 with a .889 OPS over the last four seasons. But the first 40 games of this season has offered an uncomfortable reminder of what happens when the production against left-handers comes to a halt. Now Ortiz finds himself searching for the same kind of solution Magadan helped the DH uncover five years ago. "It was showing old video. Showing him what he did against left-handers, how he used the field," Magadan said. "A lot of his troubles back then was that he was using half the field. And it was more trouble with the relievers than it was the starters. Lefty starters he was still getting his hits, but it was the guys coming out of the pen who are paid to get lefties out he had a little too much of a pull approach. Then it was when he started opening up the left side of the field is when he got going. "You can say it about any lefty hitter, these guys coming out of the pen who are paid to get lefties out usually have really good breaking balls. And if you'€™re up there worried about getting the head out and pulling the ball '€¦ Most of the time they'€™ll flash you inside to get you going away, so that flash got him leaning away and then they would come with the breaking ball." Ortiz has seemingly made a conscious effort of returning to an opposite field approach against left-handers, at least when elevating the ball. But one noticeable trend this season has been an inability to hit the ball on the ground to the left side, as is evidenced by not a single ball hit on the ground to the left of second base against a lefty hurler. There might be a reason: unlike five years ago, the balls he is putting in play are coming on pitches on the inside part of the plate. Here are the 13 hits Ortiz had managed against lefties by the time May 20, 2011 rolled around ... "When he started hitting the ball the other way, taking his base hit over there, it changed the way they were pitching him," Magadan remembered. "They started throwing more fastballs on the inner-half. But he needed the pay back of hitting balls over to the left side, keeping the defense and the pitchers honest for it to flow from there." Evidently, it's time for another adjustment from Ortiz.