Red-hot Papi returns to familiar spot

Red-hot Papi returns to familiar spot

ST. PETERSBURG -- Wednesday night marked the first time in more than a year that Red Sox slugger David Ortiz batted third in manager Terry Francona's lineup. On a night J.D. Drew (hip flexor) and Victor Martinez (bruised left big toe) were both out of the mix, Ortiz was elevated from his usual No. 5 slot in the batting order.

The improved positioning in the batting order was yet another sign of how dramatic Ortiz's resurgence at the plate has been of late. Entering Wednesday's game, Ortiz was hitting .359 with eight homers and 21 RBIs in May, raising his average from .143 to .258 over that span.

What has been the biggest key to Ortiz's rebound?

"Working, you've got to work," Ortiz said. "Work, work and work. That's all I know. To stay consistent, you've got to just work and keep your head straight. That's about it. I don't feel like I have changed anything. I just feel more confidence. It's all [a matter of], good results give you confidence. That's what I believe. Because when you work, work, work and work and you don't see no good results, your confidence never shows up."

It is certainly no coincidence that the Red Sox -- who had won six of seven entering Wednesday and 15 of their past 22 -- have gotten hot at the same time as Ortiz.

"I don't think it could ever hurt," Francona said. "The more guys swinging the bat, the better, especially a guy that's as dangerous as David. You're not just talking about singles, you're talking about extra-base hits and home runs."

Ortiz clearly has a lot of confidence these days, good-naturedly exchanging banter with teammates and media members on a regular basis again, just like he did during his prime.

Earlier this season, Francona was forced to answer daily questions about Ortiz's slump. He much prefers discussing the slugger's turnaround.

"I think there's a lot of things," Francona said. "I think what it is, he's a good hitter, and he's gotten himself in more positions physically where he can show his bat speed. I think one thing leads to another. Take a good swing, you feel good about yourself, you have something to show for your at bats, you relax a little bit. I think it all kind of comes hand in hand."

During Ortiz's slump, some theorized that his bat speed had gone down. Nobody is saying that any longer.

"I mean, you hear people say, 'Well, he didn't have bat speed.' Sometimes you get yourself in a position where you can't show it," Francona said. "Your hands are forward, your feet are forward, your head's forward, and the bat head's lagging back. We've all seen it in the last whatever period of time -- the bat head's not lagging. He's shown that ability where he gets that bat head through the zone pretty ferocious, without trying to muscle him to do it."