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Ortiz: Feeling pressure more than ever

BOSTON -- The game isn’t getting any easier for Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz.

At this time last year, he and the Red Sox were awaiting the finish of the American League Wild Card playoff to see who they would be playing in the ALDS on their way to what would be a victorious world championship run.

This year? Ortiz is on the heels of what has been one of his most difficult seasons in the majors.

“I can tell you this was a tough year,” Ortiz said. “I ended up putting up good numbers but I feel the pressure more than ever this year because it seems like you’re not getting any younger. Everybody is bringing the best right at you. At my age, it’s kind of hard to keep up with it.”

Just over a month away from turning 39 years old, Ortiz hit .263 with 35 home runs and 104 RBIs this year, his highest totals in those two categories since 2007. However, the team around him struggled mightily, going 71-91 and completing an unprecedented worst to first to worst slide that has spanned the past three seasons.

“It’s not going to be like it was last year every year,” Ortiz said. “You’ve always got to go through some struggle, come back stronger or whatever. You definitely want to be in the playoffs right now, but it is what it is.”

Instead, Ortiz was at Massachusetts General Hospital on Thursday afternoon, visiting pediatric patients alongside hospital personnel as part of his efforts through the David Ortiz Children’s Fund. And although Ortiz sported a smile all day long as he handed out stuffed animals of himself and Wally the Green Monster to those he visited in their rooms -- including 20-year-old patient Aaron Smith, whom Ortiz even took a selfie with -- he looked ahead to next year, when he hopes the Red Sox will add the pieces to compete in the AL East once again.

“We’ve got to fix things,” Ortiz said. “We’ve got to make sure the offense gets to be there. This is a division that if you’ve got no offense, you’re not going to get away with things like you get away sometimes in some other divisions.”

“This is a division that you definitely need offense and the most important thing that everybody has in today’s day -- pitching. A little bit of everything. We’ll see. We’ve got that good front office, they know how to figure things out. They’ve been figuring things out during the season. Making some decision that are going to help us out for next year.”

Indeed, general manager Ben Cherington spoke with a similar tone while addressing the media on Monday, noting that primary among the team’s needs would be starting pitching and acquiring another left-handed bat for the lineup. For his part, Ortiz especially stressed his desire for more offense around him, saying that even with the team’s trade deadline additions last year there is still room for improvement.

“Offensively we’re still poor,” Ortiz said. “You saw the result. It’s not a secret for anyone that we need some thunder. We need some thunder. It’s just what it is. We lost a lot of games, one-run games. They know and everybody knows that. We need to increase our offense.”

As it stands, Ortiz will be joined by a full season of Yoenis Cespedes and Rusney Castillo in the lineup, as well as the presumably healthy returns of Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Allen Craig.

Would that be enough to at least compete?

Ortiz remains optimistic.

“Hopefully being back and being healthy and knowing what we are capable to do, we come back, bounce back next year and put up a good season together,” Ortiz said.

The end of the 2015 season will find Ortiz on the verge of turning 40 years old, something the slugger nervously laughs off. And as his age continues to catch up to him, the game figures to continue getting tougher.

“I’m not going to say that I’m going to retire, but I’m not going to say that I’ve got three, four, five more years,” Ortiz said. “I’m just going to take things day by day, see how it feels. It’s not a secret for anyone that age starts catching up to you. Things like that -- in baseball that counts.”

“This offseason I’m going to try to figure things out better. See if I can come back next year with less pain and less problems and see how things go during the season this year.”