Red Sox to welcome back Ortiz on Saturday
Slugger homers Thursday, set to return for emotional start of homestand
CLEVELAND -- David Ortiz belted a home run to right field in the sixth inning on Thursday at Pawtucket, R.I., and that was likely the last order of business in his Triple-A rehab assignment.
The slugger was slated to return to the Red Sox's lineup on Friday night, but with the game getting postponed due to the city being in lockdown, he'll have to wait until Saturday's 1:10 p.m. ET contest vs. the Royals.
"Yeah, it sounds like he finished on a positive note," said manager John Farrell. "He feels good about where he's at, and all things are pointing to his return ... when we get off this trip."
Ortiz hasn't played for the Red Sox since Aug. 24, 2012, thanks to lingering problems with his right Achilles. In fact, Big Papi originally sustained the injury on July 20 of last season and was able to play just one game for the rest of the season.
But the designated hitter finally appears ready to take his usual spot in the middle of Boston's batting order.
"My idea [during the rehab assignment] was to put the ball in play so I could run and see how it felt," Ortiz said. "I got the chance to test that. It feels good. I think I'll go back to the big team ... and try to keep [my swing] compact. I'm old enough to know to keep it compact, but my main key was to make sure that my foot was fine."
Ortiz's return will happen on what is expected to be an emotional day at Fenway Park. It comes in the first home game for the Red Sox since the tragedy at the Boston Marathon on Monday, when multiple bombs killed three people and injured 176 others.
It might take Ortiz a couple of games to look like the player who has been one of the best sluggers in the Major Leagues over the past decade.
"His main concern is his lower legs," Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina said. "When you watch him swing, he's a little late on fastballs. I chuckled and mentioned that 'maybe when you get in a big league stadium and the adrenaline's going, bang, you're on those."'
Like everyone else, DiSarcina was eager to see Ortiz return to his home office of Fenway Park.
"The best thing about having him down here is he left healthy," DiSarcina said. "He doesn't belong here."
Assuming Ortiz is activated on Saturday, the Red Sox will likely option outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. to the Minors. Bradley, who is the club's No. 2 prospect, opened the season as Boston's starting left fielder but went into an 0-for-20 slump.
With Ortiz back in the mix, Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes will likely share left field.
Don't look for Ortiz to be an iron man right away. If the last several months have taught him anything, it's that he needs to listen to his body.
"I might need a day off once in a while," Ortiz said. "But hopefully that won't be the whole year. I feel that at one point I'll be 100 percent, so let's get it going."
Farrell will communicate with Ortiz on a daily basis.
"We'll certainly work off of David with this," said Farrell. "To say we have X games in X days -- we'll use him as our guide, but we're going to have to balance getting him back into full shape as well as monitoring how much stress that heel can take."
The one thing the Red Sox have to be pleased about is how well they played in Ortiz's absence. After Thursday's game, Farrell's team is 11-4.
"It's been great," Farrell said. "You can't say enough about the way we've played defense and the way we've pitched. We've scored runs in bunches at times, yet we've scored some timely runs to walk a couple of games off."
There's no question Ortiz will make a difference, even by his mere presence.
"To have his presence in the middle of the order certainly speaks for itself for the number of years and the success he's had," Farrell said. "I think he gives us the potential to lengthen our lineup even more, and we're certainly looking forward to seeing him in the clubhouse."
The second half of last season and the early portion of this year have been tough for Ortiz, given how much he likes to help his team win games.
"It's been very hard [being on the DL]," Ortiz said. "Eight months. One thing people need to know is baseball's not magical. You work your way in. That's why we have Spring Training for a month and a half, because you have to work on your timing and work on the things that keep you consistent. I work on that every day and know what it takes to get there."
In his six games for Pawtucket, Ortiz hit .222 (4-for-18) with four RBIs, zero walks and six strikeouts.
Ortiz struggled in his first two at-bats Thursday against Phillies Minor Leaguer Adam Morgan, striking out twice.
But against righty Mike Stutes in the sixth, Ortiz jumped on a 90-mph fastball and crushed a solo homer off the elevated scoreboard in right field for his first extra-base hit during his rehab assignment.
"I'm getting more comfortable," Ortiz said. "That's me, when I'm getting comfortable. [Morgan] threw the ball pretty good. But like I say, the more pitching you face, the better."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. Mike Scandura, a contributor for MLB.com, reported on this story from Pawtucket, R.I. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.