Roche: Still Plenty Of Pop Without Papi

By Dan Roche, WBZ-TV Sports

BOSTON (CBS) – One of the major Red Sox stories of the spring has been the injuries of David Ortiz. The 37-year-old has been dealing with a partially torn Achilles since last season, and now has heel problems stemming from the injury.

Ortiz is expected to return around May 1st, but it would surprise no one if he has issues with it periodically throughout the season. That’s an issue, and if it were up to me, I would hold him out perhaps even longer to try to get him to as close to 100- percent as possible.

Will not having David’s bat in the Sox lineup hurt? Absolutely — this summer the Sox built their offense around their power DH. But will it be a season-crushing difference? Maybe, but more is riding on the Sox pitching staff to carry them — especially early on — if they are going to contend.

Another angle to look at: I think that not having Ortiz in the line-up in April may not be as crushing as it would be in June, July, August and September. The one big reason? Fenway Park.

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Last season, Ortiz had four home runs at Fenway in April, but two came on the final day of the month. In 2011? Zero. In 2010 and 2009? One — total.

Boston will play 17 games at Fenway this April, and traditionally, Fenway is a tough place for not just Ortiz, but all lefthanded hitters to hit home runs in the early Spring months due to the weather. How many balls do we see die time and time again at the warning track in right field? Too many, if not most.

So, give me a healthy Ortiz in the warm weather — when the Fenway winds are blowing out, and that Achilles (hopefully completely healed) stays loose.

And if the Sox do put up home runs at Fenway in April, their best shot would be from the right side where they have Mike Napoli, Will Middlebrooks, and Jonny Gomes.

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I do think this Red Sox line-up has a chance to be pretty solid and versatile from top to bottom this season, especially when Ortiz comes back. They have good speed at the top in Ellsbury (who also had 32 HR in 2011), Victorino, and even Pedroia. Then there is power after that in Napoli, Middlebrooks, Gomes, and Saltalamacchia. Plus, add in x-factor Jackie Bradley Jr. to go along with Daniel Nava and, eventually, Stephen Drew.

If David comes back in May, perhaps this team can surprise. That’s what the final week of March is for anyways, right? Plenty of optimism.

Enjoy the ride.

Follow WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche on Twitter @RochieWBZ.

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