David Ortiz expects strong start

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For starters, David Ortiz said he is not going to worry about how he begins this season.

After two consecutive miserable Aprils with the Boston Red Sox, designated hitter Ortiz is taking a page from the Jonathan Papelbon School of Coping with Adversity. Papelbon, you might recall, said last week that the secret for him to deal with the issues facing him this season is to not think about them.

"If I think, then I'm not a closer," Papelbon said in a unique variation of the stuff you learned in philosophy class (Descartes: "I think, therefore I am").

Ortiz sounded a similar note when discussing how he intended to avoid mirroring his slow starts this go-round.

"I think all I need to do is not think about it," he said Thursday after working out for the first time with new teammates Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez on the official reporting date for Sox players. "Walking into the season, sometimes you hear everybody talking about your start, and you put more pressure than normal on the beginning of the season.

"I understand why people worry about me, the way the season starts. People are used to seeing you doing your thing on a daily basis. But I'm not planning to put pressure on myself for when the season starts. I'm preparing myself right now the way I can go through the season with a full tank, like I normally like to do it."

Ortiz's struggles at the outset of 2010 were compounded by the uncertainty over whether the Sox planned to exercise the $12.5 million option they held for 2011 or grant him an extension. Ortiz adamantly maintained all season that he wanted an extension but did not balk publicly when the Sox chose to exercise the option instead.

"That's something I can't really control," he said. "I want to stick around, and that's what they had on the table for me at the time. I don't know; we just move on."

There is a comparable element of uncertainty entering this season, with Ortiz's contract due to expire at the end of the season and with him turning 36 in November. He was asked whether he planned to ask for an extension during the season.

"I'm just going to focus on playing baseball right now," he said. "Whatever happens, happens later, but right now my goal is to have a great start and try to win another World Series."

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said Thursday that he did not expect Ortiz's contract situation to be a distraction, and Ortiz came to camp in typical, irrepressible fashion, with big embraces for almost everybody who crossed his path. The sullenness that surfaced last year, especially early in the season, was nowhere to be found.

"I'm just not going to let that get in my head like last year," Ortiz said, reflecting on the unhappiness he felt last April. "I know I can go 0-for-20, like I can go 15-for-20. It's just a game.

"I think last year, what happened was I kind of snapped a little bit at the beginning of the season. I didn't think it was fair after the second game of the season that people were having their doubts. I guess that's part of the game, but I'm not planning to go through that again. I try my best, like I always do, and whatever happens, happens."

Ortiz clashed with manager Terry Francona last April when Ortiz began to be platooned against left-handers with Mike Lowell. Tensions came to a boil when Francona twice lifted Ortiz for a pinch hitter, the second time in Toronto. Asked Thursday whether he thought he should play against lefties this season, Ortiz was reflective.

"I got to prove that to myself and everyone," he said."I hit lefties before. Lefties are normally tough on lefties, but you've got to feel your way out. I've been working on my swing. I know I can hit lefties. I just have to have better numbers, this and that."

But Ortiz seemed genuinely caught up in the excitement of being part of a lineup, with Crawford and Gonzalez, that is expected to be explosive.

"I think this offense can do some damage," he said. "They are two hitters who are troublemakers, who give lots of headaches to pitchers. ... Right now, we have more thunder than we've had in a few years.

"It will be crazy for pitchers. ... I don't think I have to be the guy people are worrying about now."

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.