He has been described as a pain in the ass, one of a kind, a great hitter and RBI man and a dynamic player, one they’d love to never face again.
Yet you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the White Sox clubhouse who thinks baseball will be better off without David Ortiz, who is playing in his final regular season at U.S. Cellular Field on Thursday night.
Ortiz, who homered for the Boston Red Sox and drove in three runs in a Wednesday night victory, announced before the season that 2016 would be his final one. Prior to Thursday’s contest, the White Sox presented Ortiz with cigars and a humidor as a retirement gift.
“I personally believe there will never be another one like him,” White Sox catcher Dioner Navarro said. “He was literally out of baseball and then he figured stuff out, he did it and he’s been nothing but wonderful to the game.”
Ortiz has been one of the sport’s most popular figures for nearly a decade — unless you’re an opposing pitcher. Carlos Rodon learned on Wednesday night what Ortiz, 40, can do to mistake fastballs, a lesson previously learned by 508 pitching victims.
Somehow, White Sox closer David Robertson has never surrendered a homer to Ortiz despite facing him 15 times in his career. Robertson has got the best of a majority of their meetings, holding Ortiz to a .214/.267/.286 slash line with only three hits in 14 at-bats. But it doesn’t make it easier when they do battle, Robertson said.
“He’s been a pain in the ass,” Robertson said. “He’s been that powerful left-handed bat that you just don’t want to see late in the game. He’s been an exceptional hitter who’s smart in the box. He’s just a deadly threat every time he comes to the plate.
“I just feel like it’s a dog fight every time I face him. He knows everything I’ve got and I know where he can hit it. I hope I come out on top.”
White Sox reliever Zach Duke has only faced Ortiz three times. But he knows the book on Ortiz and has even more respect after “Big Papi” dribbled a run-scoring single through a vacated hole in the White Sox shift on Wednesday night for an insurance run. Duke could see that Ortiz wanted to hit the ball to the left side earlier in the at-bat. So the left-hander tried to get a fastball inside on Ortiz’s quick hands and the slugger still managed to get inside of the pitch enough to bounce it into left field.
“He’s going to take what you give him in those situations because he wants the RBI,” Duke said. “He’s got that kind of ability to exploit whatever defenses give him. I could tell he was trying to do it on the breaking ball before it, he was even trying to shoot that the other way. I’m like ‘All right, I need to give him the heater’ and he got inside of that still. Tip my hat.”
But the bat is only part of Ortiz’s lure.
He’s not just a great player, one who has helped the Red Sox win three World Series titles. Players think Ortiz is a fantastic spokesperson and ambassador for baseball because he clearly enjoys the game and it shows.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura agreed with that assessment, noting baseball is better off in part because of Ortiz.
“He’s been a dynamic player, another case for a (designated hitter) who’s going to make it into the Hall of Fame because he’s had such an impact on every game he’s been in, in the lineup, where he’s at, playoff games, clutch moments,” Ventura said. “All those things and the Boston Strong thing. He can speak, too. He’s had a lot of important moments in Boston. It transcends a lot of things in our game.
“He means a lot of things to a lot of people.”
A few hundred feet away from a White Sox clubhouse in which players are somewhat confused by baseball’s new second base sliding rule, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred preferred to focus on the positives of the edict put in place prior to the 2016 season.
After Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang and New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada both suffered serious injuries on takeout slides last year, MLB added a rule that stipulates players must make a “bona fide” effort to slide into, not around or past, second base. Intentionally grabbing a player’s leg to disrupt a throw is now illegal, as are late slides that take a player out of the baseline or past second base.
The rule, in effect, is clear: “Just slide into the bag,” White Sox shortstop Jimmy Rollins said.
But the implementation of it hasn’t been consistent. Last weekend in a game against the Baltimore Orioles, the White Sox thought they had a triple play turned when Manny Machado reached out and grabbed second baseman Brett Lawrie until it was a ruled clean slide.
“I don’t feel like anybody has a feel on it, to be honest with you,” Lawrie said, explaining what happened to him at Camden Yards. “… Unfortunately, that goes against one of the points in the rule and when you don’t follow through with that, you tell everybody that, well, nobody really knows and you guys just don’t really get it yet.”
Lawrie’s gripe is that different umpires and review crews will have different gray areas for what’s acceptable at second base and what’s not. When the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista grabbed Tampa Bay Rays infielder Logan Forsythe’s leg on a ninth-inning double play attempt, a review determined Bautista’s actions violated the rule, and he was ruled out to end an early April game. That was the first high-profile instance of the new rule being enforced, and was one that resonated across major league clubhouses. It’s what Lawrie pointed to when discussing the non-call in Baltimore.
Manfred understands the adjustment period for players and umpires regarding the rule. As was the case when MLB implemented its rule to cut down on collisions at home plate, there was bound to be some confusion for everyone in getting used to playing the game a different way.
But Manfred doesn’t expect whatever problems do exist to last for long.
“Whenever you change a rule with respect to the play of the game on the field, there’s going to be a period of adjustment,” Manfred said. “There has certainly been one in respect to the slide rule, but I focus on the positive. Number one, I do think the rule serves a really important purpose and that is protecting players and I think even in the last couple of weeks, you see us getting more to the kind of equilibrium that we reached with respect to the home plate rule and quite frankly, we got there a little faster at second base than we did at home plate.”
Rollins, a 17-year major league veteran, similarly compared the second base rule to the home plate one and expressed optimism that the wrinkles of it will be ironed out in the future.
“We see a guy get called out for reaching across and grabbing a player and then it happens to us trying to turn a triple play and they interpret it as a clean slide when clearly (Machado) reached out and grabbed Brett,” Rollins said. “It’s like the home plate rule, there’s still a lot of things to work out. But the home plate rule, they said slide in and we’ll go look at it and hopefully get it right, and they eventually got that right. It’ll be the same thing at second.”
The injury bug refuses to leave the White Sox alone.
Just as outfielder Avisail Garcia returned to the lineup on Thursday, reliever Jake Petricka has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right hip impingement. Petricka is the fourth White Sox player to hit the DL since Alex Avila suffered a right hamstring strain on April 24 and that doesn’t count Garcia, who missed the team’s last four games with a right hamstring strain.
The White Sox recalled Tommy Kahnle from Triple-A Charlotte to take the place of Petricka, who needs at least a week off after his discomfort worsened during a Wednesday bullpen session.
“It’s something he’s been dealing with,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “More than anything, this is something that had to happen. We weren’t going to be able to use him for a week at least to be able get over this. The way he’s throwing, you want him back to feeling 100 percent so you’re not going to go injure anything trying to protect it.
“It’s something that’s there. It was more pronounced yesterday than at any point that he’s brought up. But definitely at the point where we need to take care of this.”
Garcia, who has a five-game hitting streak, finally got cleared after several days of testing his hamstring. Ventura said Wednesday’s test was thorough.
“He says he’s ready to go,” Ventura said. “They tested him pretty good (Wednesday), though.”
Avila is also ready to resume action. His baseball bag was loaded and sitting out in front of his clubhouse stall. He’ll join Triple-A Charlotte on Friday and begin a rehab assignment.
The White Sox also made another pair of moves official on Thursday. The club promoted pitcher Erik Johnson from Charlotte and designated John Danks for assignment. The White Sox 40-man roster now stands at 38 after Danks’ removal.