Red Sox

Closing on 400 homers, Ortiz is more than a slugger

797962.jpg

Closing on 400 homers, Ortiz is more than a slugger

SEATTLE -- As the Red Sox took on the Seattle Mariners Friday night at Safeco Field, David Ortiz was in the hunt for his 400th career homer, something only seven other active hitters had accomplished and 48 in the history of the game have managed to hit.

The pending feat has served to humble Ortiz, who freely admits to taking note of the members of the exclusive club, and moreover, of those who haven't gained admittance.

For instance, two recent Red Sox legends -- Hall of Famer Jim Rice and outfielder Dwight Evans -- fell short of the plateau.

Since 2003, among all lefthanded hitters, only Adam Dunn has hit more homers.

But there's a danger in focusing squarely on Ortiz's ability to hit the long ball. Such an approach obscures Ortiz's ability as a pure hitter.

He entered Friday's action with a lifetime average of .289, far higher than many swing-for-the-fences sluggers. His lifetime on-base percentage of .388 is evidence of his selectivity at the plate.

"David's one of the finest hitters I've ever been around,'' said Bobby Valentine. "He works real hard at his profession. He studies the opposition. He takes every at-bat very personally. He really enjoys the competition. He's having as good a year as anyone I've been around.''

Still, as Ortiz approaches his latest milestone, there's a general perception that he doesn't quite get the respect he deserves for being a pure hitter.

There's more to Ortiz than tape-measure shots and big blasts over the fence.

"That could very well be the case,'' said Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan. "I think the people who get exposed to him on a day-in, day-out basis know what type of hitter he is. He's a guy who still continues to hit for average and takes his walks. He's a force in the middle of the lineup, but he can hurt you in a lot of different ways. He hits doubles. I think it's appreciated by guys who see him a lot, but maybe people on the West Coast, or media who don't see him all the time, think of him as just a home run hitter.''

When Magadan joined the Red Sox coaching staff, he heard from then-manager Terry Francona and former bench coach Brad Mills about Ortiz's dedication to his craft.

The homers aren't the result of just brute strength and all those base hits (1,844 and counting) aren't by accident.

"All you have to do is look at the fact that he has great hands, great body control at the plate,'' said Magadan. "There's no reason why he shouldn't hit for a high average because the tools are there for him to do it, even at 36.''

Indeed, this year and last, Ortiz has enjoyed something of a late-career renaissance. After beginning both 2008 and 2009 with long slumps -- to the point where the Red Sox seriously contemplated his release -- Ortiz has been more consistent overall, and more specifically, more productive against lefties.

In 2008 and 2009, he combined to hit .254 while striking out an average of almost 140 times per season. Since the start of 2011, however, Ortiz has boosted his batting average by more than 50 points to .308 and dramatically cut down his strikeouts to about 80 per season.

"I think he's kind of reinvented himself,'' said Magadan. "He's changed his body. He eats the right things, he doesn't drink anymore. He takes care of himself. He wants to continue playing this game and he realizes that he's got to do the kind of things he needs to stay out there. He probably feels better than he ever has physically.''

But beyond being in better shape and being more healthy in his lifestyle choices, Magadan sees another reason for Ortiz's resurgence.

"Like a lot of people,'' said Magadan, "he enjoys proving people wrong. For the naysayers who thought he was done two or three years ago, or the ones who thought last year was a fluke, he enjoys proving people wrong.''

Those close to Ortiz insist he's partly fueled by the Red Sox' refusal to grant him a multi-year extension, and similarly motivated to show other American League teams who didn't bid on him last winter how wrong they were in their evaluation.

Magadan said the 2012 version of Ortiz is similar to the Ortiz of 2007. His slumps are shorter and his hot streaks seem to last longer.

"That's rare for older guys,'' Magadan notes. "Usually, the hot streaks get cut in half. Instead of being hot for two weeks, you're hot for five or six days. But the ability to lengthen out the good times and shorten up the bad ones and understand why he's swinging the bat good and what's causing him to square a lot of balls up and use the whole field, to swing at strikes -- he's done a great job with all of that.''

Meanwhile, the homers come almost as an afterthought -- the result of Ortiz's hard work, but by no means his only talent.

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

mlb_rob_manfred_081414.jpg

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

cy_young_corey_kluber_chris_sale_111517.jpg

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

Max Scherzer heard his name and thrust his arms in the air, shouting and smiling big before turning to kiss his wife.

Corey Kluber, on the other hand, gulped once and blinked.

Two aces, two different styles - and now another Cy Young Award for each.

The animated Scherzer of the Washington Nationals coasted to his third Cy Young, winning Wednesday for the second straight year in the National League. He breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Kluber's win was even more of a runaway. The Cleveland Indians ace took 28 first-place votes, easily outpacing Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox for his second AL Cy Young.

Scherzer yelled "yes!" when his award was announced on MLB Network, a reaction in keeping with his expressive reputation. He showed that intensity often this year, whether he was cursing under his breath like a madman during his delivery or demanding - also with expletives - that manager Dusty Baker leave him in the game.

Just a little different than the pitcher they call "Klubot." Kluber was stoic as ever when announced as the AL winner. He swallowed hard but otherwise didn't react, only showing the hint of a smile moments later when answering questions.

Not that he wasn't thrilled.

"Winning a second one maybe, for me personally, kind of validates the first one," Kluber said.

Scherzer's win moves him into rare company. He's the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs, and among the other nine, only Kershaw and Roger Clemens aren't in the Hall of Fame.

"That's why I'm drinking a lot of champagne tonight," Scherzer said.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit.

"This one is special," he said. "When you start talking about winning three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point."

Scherzer was 16-6 with a career-best 2.51 ERA this year. The 33-year-old righty struck out a league-leading 268 for the NL East champion Nationals, and in an era noted for declining pitcher durability, he eclipsed 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He had to overcome a variety of ailments to get there, and Washington's training staff was high on his thank-you list.

"Everybody had a role in keeping me out on the field," he said. "I'm very thankful for all their hard work."

Kershaw has won three NL Cy Youngs and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts. This is his second runner-up finish. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals finished third.

Kluber missed a month of the season with back pain and still easily won the AL award over Sale and third-place finisher Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball. He added to the Cy Young he won with the Indians in 2014 and is the 19th pitcher to win multiple times.

The 31-year-old Kluber was especially dominant down the stretch, closing out the season by going 11-1 to help Cleveland win the AL Central. He and Minnesota's Ervin Santana tied for the major league lead with five complete games - nobody else had more than two. Kluber also led the majors with 8.0 wins above replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Kluber and Scherzer both had rough outings in the playoffs. Kluber gave up nine runs over two starts in an AL Division Series against the Yankees, and Scherzer blew a save in the decisive Game 5 of an NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Scherzer said he couldn't even watch the League Championship Series, although he did tune in for the World Series.

"That will eat at me this whole offseason," he said.

Voting for the awards was completed before the postseason began.

The final BBWAA honors will come Thursday when the MVP awards are announced in the AL and NL.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE