Ortiz: 'Gotta believe in your players'

David Ortiz, emboldened by the hot streak that has raised his batting average more than 100 percentage points since the start of the month, criticized Terry Francona in a radio interview for showing a lack of confidence in him, especially when the Red Sox manager pinch hit for him twice.

"I was mad. I was absolutely mad," Ortiz said Thursday morning on WEEI's Big Show, referring to the second time he was lifted for a pinch hitter, April 27 in Toronto . "If you ride with me, you're going to get two things. Either you're going to win or you're going to die with me.

"That's the way it is, that's the way it's been as long as I've been here. … You gotta believe in your players. Period. You choose to have me on your roster since Day 1. You gotta ride with me."

While Ortiz said he had "turned the page," he also issued a "guarantee" that his days of returning to the dugout for a pinch hitter are over.

"It's not going to be like that anymore,'' he said. "I guarantee you that.''

Ortiz also lashed back at those in the media who suggested he couldn't hit anymore and had urged the Red Sox to dump him.

"I'm going to be done when I decide to be done, not when the media says that I'm done," said Ortiz, who also stated he'd like to play for a few more years. "I'm nobody to tell you when you're going to be done.

"I don't know nothing about your job. … You're done when you're done, not when somebody says that you have to be done. That's been the case here. You struggle for a month and everybody starts killing you. … If you pay attention to that you'll never come out of it."

ESPN.com's Howard Bryant reported earlier this week that after Ortiz was lifted for a pinch-hitter in Toronto, he left Rogers Centre before the end of the game, citing sources within the organization. "That's a lie,'' Ortiz subsequently told the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy, who also wrote that Francona disputed that account.

Ortiz was not in the lineup Thursday night against Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano, the first time in eight games he had not started. The last time he sat was on May 11, when he did not play against Toronto left-hander Dana Eveland, the 10th straight game in which a Sox opponent started a left-hander and Mike Lowell played in Ortiz's place.

Ortiz, 34, came into 2010 batting just .216 against left-handers in the previous two seasons. He faced two lefties, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, in the season-opening series against the Yankees and went 1-for-6 with an RBI single against Pettitte.

The Sox did not face another left-hander for more than a week. By then, with Ortiz batting just .154 (4-for-29), Francona sat him in Minnesota, on April 15, also against Liriano. It would be exactly a month before Ortiz would face another left-handed starter.

Last Saturday in Detroit, against Dontrelle Willis, Francona abandoned the platoon and started Ortiz again Tuesday night against Sabathia.

"I don't want to stand in the way of anyone getting hot,'' Francona had offered as an explanation for playing Ortiz against lefties.

Ortiz struck out and had an RBI single against Willis, and singled, walked and grounded out against Sabathia.

Since Francona put the platoon to rest, Ortiz is batting .429 (12-for-28) with 4 home runs and 10 RBIs. For the month, he is batting .358 (19-for-53) with 7 home runs and 17 RBIs and is slugging .774, raising his overall average from .143 to .248 at the start of Thursday night.

Why, then, wasn't Ortiz playing Thursday against Liriano, against whom he'd had just three at-bats and had one hit, a two-run double? Was it because Liriano, who has an outstanding slider and has regained his power fastball, has held left-handed hitters to a .154 average (6-for-39, 11 strikeouts) this season? Was it so Francona could give a chance to play to Lowell, who earlier this week said he and the club would both be better off if he were released?

"A little bit of everything,'' Francona said. "With CC the other night, he's actually tougher on righties. Lefties take away his changeup.

"I think David is swinging the bat about as well as he can, which is great,'' he said. "This is one of those guys [Liriano], this to me is the normal take your blow, be ready to pinch hit against righties, and also help him. This is a guy who is really tough on lefties. This to me is a perfect night to send up some righties and see if we can do some damage.''

Home runs by right-handed hitters Adrian Beltre and Kevin Youkilis (three-run shot) off Liriano propelled the Sox to a 4-0 lead in the first three innings, and an RBI double by Youkilis knocked out Liriano in the fifth with the Sox ahead, 5-0. Boston ended up winning 6-2.

Lowell, meanwhile, finished the night 0-for-4.

Interestingly, Lowell told ESPNBoston earlier this week that he would have played Ortiz more rather than platooning him.

"I actually would have played David more," Lowell said. "I would have needed to see if he was really hurting or he was going to come out of it. That's why I think I pose a problem. It's like they feel they owed me at-bats against a lefty."

On Thursday, Ortiz said he empathized with Lowell's plight.

"[Lowell's] not a guy that is supposed to be on the bench sitting down watching the game," Ortiz said on WEEI. "Watching Mike watch the game, it's not comfortable. Whatever Mike is thinking he has the right to say what he wants to say and what he feels like. … I totally understand what his point is."

Francona was asked in his pregame media session to talk about why he believes Ortiz broke out of his slump.

"He's got balance, he's got confidence, he's driving the ball to left-center, center, right. He's been good.

"Unfortunately, two games into the season we had to answer a lot of questions. Actually it gets old.''

Francona did not mention that eight games into the season, the Sox elected to platoon Ortiz, a decision undoubtedly made with input from Sox GM Theo Epstein.

You take your roster sometimes and you do what you think is right,'' the manager said. "Now I think he is getting hot, which is great news for us. It's very welcome. We need that production. It's going to help us win games.''

Red Sox utility man Bill Hall said Wednesday night that the team supported Ortiz even when he was struggling.
"He's going to be huge for us, if we can keep him swinging the bat like this,'' Hall said. "We're going to get right where we need to be, and he's going to be in the center of that. He's going to come up in a lot of situations where we'll need him to be big, and obviously the last couple of weeks he's been doing that, giving us a chance to win games. He's like, hitting a home run every other day.

"I'm happy for him. Obviously, he got off to a rough start, the pressure was put on him. But look at everybody's stats. The proven guys' stats are always there at the end of the year.

"We kept confidence in David, we tried to keep him as confident as possible and let him know he's Big Papi. Just go out and be Big Papi. That's what he's doing now.''

Ortiz, who has a $12.5 million club option for next season, told the radio station that he hopes to play a few more seasons.

"I don't think David's ready to retire,'' Francona said. "I don't think he needs to.''

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