Pop has returned to Big Papi's swing

Pop has returned to Big Papi's swing

BOSTON -- After nearly two months of promising a return to form instead of actually executing it, David Ortiz is looking more and more like a prophet each day.

Yes, it appears the worst slump of the slugger's career is finally behind him. And based on the optimism Ortiz repeatedly expressed during his well-documented struggles earlier this season, the Red Sox's designated hitter isn't all that surprised by his recent resurgence.

"I feel good," he said after clocking his fifth home run of the season in Tuesday's series opener against the Marlins, who will wrap up their three-game set against Boston on Thursday night at Fenway Park.

"David's swinging the bat really well," manager Terry Francona said. "We've actually told him, 'Don't look at your batting average right now, because you're going to make outs sometimes.' He's swinging the bat right now just like he is supposed to. He had a couple of bad months, so he's going to have to live with looking at that batting average [.213] being lower than he wants it to be."

"Like I told you guys at the beginning, it's all about timing," said Ortiz, who has hit safely in 11 of his past 13 games with an at-bat, batting .326 over that span with four home runs and 10 RBIs. "It's working. I was trying to get my timing."

Precisely when his timing clicked back into place is not entirely certain. Perhaps it was the straightaway center-field blast off Yankees right-hander A.J. Burnett last week, or his opposite-field shot two nights later against lefty CC Sabathia. The fact remains that Ortiz is once again carrying himself with the confidence and swagger of the Big Papi of old.

"I didn't think he ever really left in that regard," left fielder Jason Bay said of Ortiz's gregarious nature. "To me, he had been the same teammate the whole time. That's a testament to him, because, obviously, he struggled, and he's a big guy in a big market. But he was always supportive.

"He might not have had that same cockiness and attitude he had before, but he was still the same guy. More than that, you just look at some of the pitches he's turned around the last couple nights, some fastballs he may or may not have got to early on. That tells the whole story."

Pitching matchup
BOS: LHP Jon Lester (5-5, 4.76 ERA)
Although Lester came away with a no-decision in his previous start, it was one of the best performances of the young left-hander's career. Over seven innings against the defending World Series champion Phillies last Friday, Lester allowed just two hits and struck out 11. He became the first lefty in Red Sox history to strike out 10 or more in three consecutive starts. Lester has racked up 96 strikeouts in 81 1/3 innings this season. This will be his seventh start of the year at Fenway Park, where Lester is 3-2 with a 4.06 ERA.

FLA: RHP Ricky Nolasco (2-6, 7.62 ERA)
Nolasco wasn't involved in the decision last Friday, but he certainly pitched well enough to win. Facing the Blue Jays in Toronto, the 26-year-old right-hander was sharp, yielding two runs on five hits over six innings. He walked one and struck out nine, his highest strikeout total since fanning 10 Mets on Sept. 27, 2008. Nolasco, who has not won since May 8 at Colorado, has never faced the Red Sox.

Red Sox starters are 9-3 with a 3.13 ERA in 16 games since May 30. ... Boston, which has won six of its past seven games at Fenway, is 12-3 in its past 15 home contests. ... Second baseman Dustin Pedroia has hit safely in 13 of his past 14 Interleague games.

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Up next
• Friday: Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka, 1-4, 7.55) vs. Braves (Kenshin Kawakami, 3-6, 4.54), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 7-3, 4.15) vs. Braves (Derek Lowe, 7-4, 4.08), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 9-3, 4.39) vs. Braves (Jair Jurrjens, 5-5, 2.89), 1:35 p.m. ET

John Barone is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.