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Red Sox move Ortiz to cleanup spot

Red Sox move Ortiz to cleanup spot

WASHINGTON -- David Ortiz offered two words once a media member mentioned to him that he was hitting cleanup for Thursday's game against the Nationals.

"I am?" Ortiz asked.

It was the first time the Red Sox's left-handed slugger has batted fourth since May 13, 2005.

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The move to fourth -- at least on this occasion -- was simply a product of manager Terry Francona giving first baseman Kevin Youkilis the night off. Jason Bay, who has been Boston's main cleanup hitter of late, occupied the three-hole in place of Youkilis.

With the Red Sox playing under National League rules for six straight games this week, Francona has had to rotate Youkilis, Ortiz and Mike Lowell into two spots in the order.

Ortiz got Tuesday off, followed by Lowell Wednesday and Youkilis for the finale of the three-game set against the Nationals.

However, Francona's ease in putting Ortiz in the cleanup spot -- even if it was just for a night -- demonstrates how dramatically the slugger has emerged from his epic slump over the first two months of the season.

"It's great," said Francona. "I'm thrilled. The other thing is he's willing. How many guys have you seen who have done what David has who will just hit where you ask him to. I appreciate that. It makes it easier on us."

On May 26, Francona dropped Ortiz out of the three-hole for the first time in four years. Initially, Ortiz batted sixth. He was moved to the five-hole on June 18 and had remained there until Thursday.

Since June 6, Ortiz is hitting .357 with six homers and 12 RBIs. The only two players in baseball with more homers over that time span? Albert Pujols (eight) and Troy Tulowitzki (seven).

"I feel good," said Ortiz. "[I've] just been working on being there on time [with my swing] and doing what I like to do."

Over those first two months of the season, when Ortiz belted just one homer, it was hard for him to feel enthused.

"When you're not hitting -- and that's all I do -- it's no fun," Ortiz said.

One thing that has helped, according to Ortiz, are the eye drops he was given by an ophthalmologist on June 8. Ortiz's eyes had been drying out, causing him to blink in between pitches.

"A lot of difference," Ortiz said. "My eyes, they haven't been drying out too much. Not at all. I'm not blinking at all."

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

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