Sunday, April 19, 2009

Magadan preaches optimism with Ortiz

David Ortiz had himself another 0-fer on Sunday, going 0-for-4 and striking out twice to drop his batting average to .170 for the season. He's 8-for-47 with just one extra-base hit and 14 strikeouts in 12 games.

Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan, though, preached patience and optimism in a conversation with reporters in the Fenway Park locker room. Among the highlights:

What is he doing at the plate that's causing him to struggle?
"I don't care who you are: David or Manny or Nick Green or Dustin Pedroia. All those guys have things they need to do to put good swings on the ball. As a major-league hitting coach, you're not here teaching guys how to hit. You're here noticing when guys get away from what they do well at the plate. That's really what my job is. Right now, (Ortiz) is not doing the things that make him a very good hitter. The key is to nip it in the bud and not make it be a 100-at-bat span. You want to make it be a 15-to-20-at-bat span.

"I know, with you guys, it's, 'Oh, he's hitting a buck-seventy or a buck-sixty.' It's 12 games. We play 162 games. Obviously, you don't want anybody to struggle. But for me, a bad start is 120 at-bats or 150 at-bats and not 40 at-bats. When you can change your season around in two games, your batting average and all those things, it's not a start. It takes some time. He felt good about the changes he made yesterday, and for me, it's just a matter of time and sticking with it."

Did the WBC or the long spring training have any impact on his swing?
"No, because it's something he's done since I've been here. He's gone through periods where he has done what he's doing now. The WBC, the way it affected us is my day-to-day work with him. You hope to be there on an everyday basis so he doesn't fall into that."

When he misses an 87- or 88-mile-an-hour fastball, is that not as bad as it might look to us? Could he just be off by a little bit?
"That's all it takes. When you're a little bit late getting to your load or getting to the spot where you need to put a swing on the ball, when you're late, 87 is like 97. When he gets to that point when he's on time and he's in a good position to put a swing on the ball at the right time when the ball's in the right location, 97 is going to seem like 87."

How are his spirits now? Is he taking it hard?
"He gets frustrated just like anybody else, but he's still very positive. He has the right attitude that it's only going to be a matter of time. We all feel that way. He realizes that he's a very important part of our offense. I'm sure, to a certain extent, he gets frustrated with the fact that he's not hitting the way he feels like he should be hitting, but we all feel like it's just a matter of time."

Is it encouraging that he's still seeing as many pitches (a team-best 4.59 per at-bat even before a nine-pitch at-bat on Sunday) as he's seeing?
"Early on, he wasn't. Early on, at the beginning of the season, he was a little impatient and probably swinging at pitches that he would normally not swing at. That comes with getting into the flow of the season, the flow of the at-bats, getting your four or five at-bats a game -- unlike spring training, when you're getting two or three at-bats a game and you face a different pitcher every at-bat. With the flow of the season and the routine of the season, everything will fall into place for him.

"He's no different from anybody else. He's had a lot of success as a major-league hitter, but you still get frustrated. You still get impatient. You feel like, 'God, I want to jump on that first pitch,' and then it ends up being a little out of the zone or a changeup you end up putting in play. His strength is seeing pitches and waiting for that pitch he can drive."

Do you want him to try to go the other way at all?
"You've got to be careful, like with anybody; you don't want him to be thinking, 'I want to hit a ball off the (left-field) wall' because right now, they're busting him up and in with hard stuff and soft stuff down and away, back door. I don't want him to start thinking, 'Jeez, I want to start trying to hit the ball over there' because he needs to get on those pitches that are on the inner half. He just needs to hit the ball where it's pitched.

"When he's on time and he's ready to hit when the ball is in the zone, everything falls into place. When you're not ready to hit, you're going to battle to get the bat head to the ball. You'll see it with anybody -- him, J.D. Drew, whoever. When you're late getting to that spot, you're going to do things to get the bat head on the ball. You're going to fall back; you're going to lunge for balls that are off-speed. You lose your posture at the plate. When he's good, when he's squaring up on the ball, he looks like every pitch is right down the middle because he's on time and he gets to that spot and he does everything he's supposed to be doing. When he's not on time, he ends up losing his posture and he's lunging or he's backing up on balls to try to get to them."

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