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How Adrian Gonzalez has helped David Ortiz reunite with .300

by: Rob Bradford on Mon, 05/23/2011 - 2:53am

It wasn't hard to uncover Adrian Gonzalez's contributions to the Red Sox' 5-1 win over the Cubs. Fortunately for the Sox, when it comes to hitting, subtlety still isn't the slugger's strong suit.

He ripped off four more hits, scored a pair of runs, and now finds himself carrying a .342 batting average and .965 OPS. Along with starting pitcher Tim Wakefield, Gonzalez was the centerpiece of the Red Sox' 25th win of the season.

But there may have been another feather in Gonzalez's cap few might have noticed, one that may mean even more than any of the instant gratification sprayed around Fenway Park Sunday night.

Buried among the euphoria that accompanied a memorable night for many was the accomplishment of David Ortiz in the sixth inning. It was at that moment, just after 10 p.m., that the Red Sox designated hitter launched a double to the base of the left field wall, just off the glove of Cubs outfielder Jeff Baker. And with that hit, the DH's second of the game, Ortiz went above .300 for the first time since the conclusion of the 2007 season.

"It's just me," said a smiling Ortiz when reminded of the milestone after the game.

And while an eighth-inning groundout would send the No. 5 hitter back to .299, the moment has already been captured. What was previously thought to be an unattainable batting average for Ortiz ever since Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon convinced the baseball world it was a good idea to put a shift on the lefty hitter, had been brought back into the slugger's world.

So why does this have anything to do with Gonzalez?

Look at this way: Two hitters. Both power hitters. Both left-handed. Both at their best when using the entire field. One leads, and then two spots in the lineup later, the other follows. 

It's no coincidence. As it turns out, Gonzalez and Ortiz have been really, really, good for each other.

"Oh, yeah, no question. Why wouldn't you?" said Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan when asked if Ortiz might taking advantage of Gonzalez' approach and camaraderie in reenergizing the designated hitter's batting average. "[Gonzalez] is as good as it gets. He's a left-handed hitter, a left-handed power hitter, who hits the ball with authority. When David is at his best that's what he's doing best, reacting to the ball in and driving balls off the Monster.

"I know for a fact that they talk a lot about approach. When you have a guy on your team that not only talks the talk but walks the walk and is able to do what he's talked to David about, that means something."

Living under .300 for the past three seasons hasn't dented the perception of Ortiz. He has averaged a .257 clip from 2008-10, most surmised, because of hits taken away from adding the extra infielder to the lefty hitter's pull-side. It was a perfectly plausible theory considering the previous three seasons Ortiz built up a combined batting average of .306.

Now, however, he has either rediscovered an old swing or uncovered a few new tricks. And it seems like too much of a coincidence that Gonzalez' sweet stroke has arrived at relatively the same time as Ortiz' reintroduction to .300.

"We talk all the time, but remember it doesn't matter how much you talk because you still have to go out and execute," Ortiz explained. "We talk, and I watch the way he approaches pitching because he's in front of me and that gives me a good idea."

"He talked about how much he wants to stay on the ball and do what he has done his whole career," Gonzalez said of Ortiz. "He said the last couple of years he kind of lost focus at least at the beginning of the year in staying on top of the ball. Every time I talk to him he's telling me that he's reminding himself to stay inside the ball."

And, as Ortiz pointed out, the conversations are just part of the equation. 

A healthy amount of credit for Ortiz's early season success has to be attributed to his own execution, particularly against left-handed pitching. He currently finds himself hitting an even .300 against lefties (two points higher than vs. right-handers), after finishing last year with a .222 average when facing southpaws.

The designated hitter's latest conquest against left-handers came Sunday night when he managed both of his hits against lefties, marking the second time he has managed a multiple-hit game when facing southpaws. Last season, it took until June 11 for Ortiz to manage more than one hit against left-handed pitching in one game, with the second such occurrence coming Aug. 10.

"I think a big reason for the average is the damage he's done against left-hand pitching," surmised Magadan. "That shows you how well he's swinging the bat."

And, predictably, Gonzalez is right there with his middle-of-the-order teammate, hitting .302 against left-handed pitching thanks to three hits against lefties Sunday night.

But while the influence the first baseman has had on Ortiz is hard to ignore, Gonzalez points out that watching the DH every day has helped keep him heading down a positive path.

"He's such an incredible hitter, he's done it for such a long time," Gonzalez said. "He's got some of the best hands in the game, and he's been doing exactly what he's tried to do. He gets his hands going so well and has such great path to the ball and is able to hit the ball to all fields with power. It's been impressive."

The hitting coach agrees (of course, smiling while doing so.)

"It's like music to the ears, and it's not even summer yet," Magadan said of watching both hitters' recent successes. "Both have proven that it doesn't matter which way the wind is blowing, or how cold it is, they have the ability to hit the sweet spots."