Elliott: Can Bautista bounce back like his pal Ortiz?
By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
The Boston Red Sox came to town in the first month of the 2010 season and like a lot of Boston visits to the Rogers Centre the final score was not the story.
No, it was what would manager Terry Francona do.
His slugger was scuffling.
He was so bad there were questions whether he should be benched? Or would Francona pinch hit for him with the game on the line? Or would he be released?
After all his slugger was aging, his bat speed appeared to have slowed.
Oh you may have heard of him: his name was David Ortiz.
He began the season hitless in his first eight at-bats.
And when the Red Sox edged the Blue Jays 13-12 on Monday, April 26, Ortiz did not play. The right-handed hitting Mike Lowell went 1-for-6 out of the DH spot facing soft-tossing lefty Dana Eveland. Boston scored seven times off Eveland and three more against Shawn Camp in the sixth after Toronto hitters chased Josh Beckett.
The next night, Francona had Ortiz in the lineup. He was hitting sixth with his .160 batting average (8-for-50) with one homer and four RBIs in 14 games. Facing Shaun Marcum he walked, flew out and grounded into a double play,
And now tied 1-1 in the top of the eighth, lefty Scott Downs walked the left-handed hitting J.D. Drew to load the bases with two out. Now, Downs was set to face Ortiz.
Not so fast.
Francona pinch hit Lowell for Ortiz, batting .154, and manager Cito Gaston turned to right-hander Kevin Gregg. Gregg walked Lowell on four pitches and the Red Sox scored a 2-1 win.
And on the next night Ortiz sat again facing lefty Brett Cecil as Jon Lester pitched seven innings on the way to a 2-0 win.
So in three games Ortiz sat twice and was pinch hit for with the game on the line.
We could just imagine him at Customs on the flight to Baltimore.
“Anything to declare, did you leave anything behind?” the U.S. customs official would ask.
“Just my dignity,” Ortiz might have said.
We talked to five scouts for an opinion on Ortiz during that series. Four were in agreement. He was done. His bat was too slow. His swing was too long. He was overmatched.
And the fifth scout said “You know sluggers are tough to evaluate sometimes on the downward curve ... about eight years ago I gave up on a guy. Put in my report that he was done and I was dead wrong. I wouldn’t act so quickly yet. I am not giving up on Ortiz.”
Well Ortiz saw his average sink to .143 but in his 25th game moved his average over .200, ending the season hitting .270, with 32 homers, 102 RBIs and an .899 OPS.
Since that three-game series in April of 2010 Ortiz has hit .295 with 223 homers, 696 RBIs and a .945 OPS in six seasons.
Ortiz was 34 when the scouts pronounced his career over early in 2010.
He turned 35 soon after the season was over.
Age 34 and they thought he was done.
Another slugger slightly older finished this season with the lowest average in the 40-year history of the Blue Jays franchise.
Jose Bautista batted .203 in 157 games.
His on-base average was .308 when he unselfishly agreed to move to the lead-off spot as he did in 2016 with a .308 on-base mark. He finished with 23 homers, 65 RBIs and a .674 OPS.
Scouts said at various time he was done. His bat was too slow. His swing was too long. He was overmatched.
He is 36.
He will turn 37 before the month is over.
We tried to locate the five scouts we had talked to 17 years ago.
We found only three.
Two like they said on Ortiz that Bautista was done. They were wrong on Ortiz.
The one who was right on Ortiz recalled seeing Bautista in Detroit in July. Bautista went 4-for-13 in the three-game series with two doubles, two homers and four RBIs.
“Like I always say sluggers are tough to evaluate on the downside. I may have been right on Ortiz. Bautista? I would not give up on either. I think he’ll play somewhere. All those homers someone will need power. He’ll play ... for a lot less.
“Answer me this Ortiz played until he was 40 on bad ankles right? The Red Sox missed him. Bautista will be 37 next season. Who do think was in better shape? The 40-year-old or the 37-year-old.”