Look out, pitchers: Papi has swagger back

Look out, pitchers: Papi has swagger back

BOSTON -- If you're looking for deep insight on the dramatic resurgence of David Ortiz, his locker isn't the best place for answers these days. Sure, Ortiz has been in a gregarious mood of late -- the type that recalls the swagger of his prime. But when questions about his rebound come up, Ortiz, a proud man, wonders why anyone wouldn't have seen it coming.

"People started talking trash too early, man. That's what I blame it on," Ortiz said. "I'm just doing the same thing, man. Seeing the ball and swinging. That's it."

Truth be told, there's a lot more to it than that. Ortiz's mechanics are sound again, his confidence is back, and as manager Terry Francona said recently, the slugger is now putting himself in position to display his bat speed -- which some speculated had declined.

Whether you doubted Ortiz or not, the month-to-month progression has been striking. And as the Red Sox get ready to take the field for the first time in June on Tuesday night, they can only hope that May is far more indicative of what Ortiz will be for the rest of the season than April. For if that's the case, their team is a lot more dangerous.

In April, Ortiz hit .143 with one homer, four RBIs, a .238 on-base percentage and a .286 slugging percentage. May? It was merely one of his best months in years. Ortiz hit .363 with 10 homers, 27 RBIs, a .424 on-base percentage and a .788 slugging percentage.

The last time Ortiz hit 10 homers in a month?

"Last year?" Ortiz guessed.

Uh, no. Seven was his high in any month last year. The last month Ortiz had produced double-digit homers was August 2006. He hit 54 that season.

Nobody is suggesting that Ortiz will approach 50 again this year, but he is showing signs that he could be on the verge of his best season in years. Consider that this is just the second month of his entire career that he had at least 10 homers, 25 RBIs and a .350 average in the same month. The last time? June 2004.

"He's a big presence in our lineup," Red Sox lefty Jon Lester said. "Whatever he did to get back to doing what he's doing is great. It's fun to see him. He got his swagger back, that confidence. He started hitting the ball out of the park."

Ortiz put some of the swagger on display in a very innocent but telling way Sunday.

In the bottom of the fifth, as he stood in the on-deck circle, he noticed a close friend sitting in the stands.

"I was like, 'What the ... are you doing here today?' He said, 'I'm just waiting for you to go deep,'" Ortiz said. "Then I told him, 'All right, it's coming up.' Bam."

Yes, bam indeed, as Ortiz hit a two-run rocket over the fence in center. Chances are, he would not have been bold enough to tell his friend something like that back in April.

But these are heady times again for Ortiz.

"He looks dangerous," center fielder Mike Cameron said. "That's a good sign for the Boston Red Sox. You have that kind of hitter in that position considering we do get a lot on base, it makes it that much easier for the team to try to win ballgames every day."

The other byproduct of Ortiz's surge is that he's back in the catbird's seat again. Last week, Ortiz reclaimed his familiar No. 3 spot in the batting order, which he had occupied for years, only to lose it for a year, starting on May 24, 2009.

He hits behind Dustin Pedroia and in front of Kevin Youkilis. Where Ortiz was once preoccupied with where he was hitting -- particularly disenchanted when he would hit sixth, and last year, almost disgusted when he batted seventh twice, it has now become an afterthought.

"I could hit ninth right now," Ortiz said. "The way I'm hitting, it doesn't matter."

Ortiz putting himself back on his feet has made life easier for manager Terry Francona. In April, it was to the point where Ortiz was platooning for the first time since early 2003 -- and the first time in Francona's regime. When lefties would pitch, Mike Lowell would DH. Ortiz would play against righties. Befitting Ortiz's misfortune at the time, the Red Sox faced an inordinate amount of lefties for a stretch, leaving the slugger out of rhythm.

"He's been taking good swings," Francona said. "I don't know if it matters that it's June or not, but he's gotten himself to a point where he feels really good about himself. You can see it in his body language and his energy. He goes up to the plate and they make a mistake, and he hits hit a long way. Sometimes when they don't make a mistake, he'll shoot it to left or foul it off. But he's a very dangerous and very productive hitter."

Considering the frustration of April, was the month Ortiz just completed the most satisfying he has ever had?

"[Heck] yeah," Ortiz bellowed. "All right, go to June."

He then walked out of the clubhouse with nothing else to say. For the last month, his bat has made plenty of noise for him.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.