BOSTON -- Terry Francona, looking rested and relaxed, spoke for several minutes with reporters on a variety of topics before NESN's televised "town hall" Monday, including David Ortiz and his slow starts the last two seasons.
Francona, noting that he is well aware of Ortiz's poor numbers against left-handed pitchers, said there may be times he'll sit Ortiz against a certain left-hander, but contended that taking him out of the lineup regularly against lefties has a negative impact on his performance against right-handers.
Ortiz batted just .143 last April, with a home run and 4 RBIs, and reacted unhappily when Francona sat him against lefties for Mike Lowell, including two occasions in which Lowell pinch hit for him. Francona on Monday night essentially defended his actions -- if anything, he said, he might have "gotten in the way" of Adrian Beltre a few times.
"The first month of the season, we started out so bad and I felt I could have probably done some things differently,'' Francona said. "You take the roster you have and try to make the most of it. I thought I got in Beltre's way a little bit.
"Looking back at David, I don’t know, it's easy to look back, but during that time period I always do what I think is best. I never try to lose sight of the big picture. If I had to do it all over again, I don’t know if I was right or not to pinch hit for him, but we won a game. That’s a hard one. I'm not trying to dodge the question.''
Francona said he and Ortiz have had "a pretty good talk" about his role this season. "The idea is to win,'' Francona said. "David is a pretty proud guy. I actually feel like for David to be successful ... I see his numbers against lefties. Believe me, I do. [But] you can't just sit him because I'm not sure he’d have as much success against righties. I really believe that. There are probably times where it will maybe do him good and our team good to give him a break against somebody he struggles with. That wasn’t necessarily the case in April. He was struggling against everybody, and we were struggling to win.
"Last year we were sitting with Mikey Lowell as a guy on the other side of equation who was like, a perfect fit. You got a guy not hitting lefties and a guy sitting who's done that his whole life. It's hard not to use him a little bit. I don’t know if I would have been doing my job. To say I didn’t think about it would be wrong.''
Because he'd also gotten off to a slow start in 2009, Ortiz endured intense scrutiny from the outset last spring, with some critics suggesting he was at the end of his career. Francona was asked what could be done to avoid a similar start this season.
"The biggest thing is if he goes 0 for 2 opening night against [Texas left-hander] C.J. Wilson and all you guys [reporters] are standing in front of his locker, then come into my office and ask if he's going to play.
"For whatever reason, the last two years have been horrendous starts. Thankfully he pulled out of it, but there's no getting around it, last April was awful. It was hard. You get through it; we had to fight our way through it at times. Thankfully we did, but it was hard. I lost a lot of sleep over it.
"We always tell guys the night before if they're playing the next day. There was one night in New York, I think [CC] Sabathia was pitching. It was one of the few times I had to go and say, 'Guys, I don’t know, I'll call you tomorrow.' That really bothered me. That's a lot of anxiety for an April game. But it was important to them, so it was important to me.''