Three years ago, David Ortiz' career was seemingly winding down. After a disappointing 2008, 2009 proved a new low, with a late-season string of home runs proving only enough to pull his year into semi-respectable territory for a pure DH such as Ortiz.
It seems hard to believe, because since then Ortiz has done nothing but improve. A solid 2010 led to a great 2011 led to a career year in 2012. Or, at least, it could have been had it not ended so prematurely.
From the get go, it was clear that Ortiz would not be dealing with any lingering effects from the dramatic collapse of 2011. While the rest of the team struggled to get off the ground, Ortiz picked up seven hits in his first 15 at bats, and then after a two game slump 0-for-8, went on a tear through the rest of April, closing out the month with a two-homer game against Oakland as the team struggled to tread water around him.
In every aspect of the game, Ortiz displayed rare form, but perhaps above all it was simply impossible to get the ball past him. Ortiz' strikeout rate dropped to its lowest in his career at 13.3%, matched by a career-low swinging strike rate of 6.3%. If he was not the best contact player in the game, he was amongst the best at mixing incredible power with the ability to put the ball in play time and again, often enough off the Monster for a double.
Sadly, while Ortiz dominated, he did so alone as often as not. Adrian Gonzalez, his partner in crime from 2011, failed to find his swing at the plate before being shipped out. Ditto Kevin Youkilis, just to an extreme. Ultimately the only time Ortiz found himself with a real imposing threat alongside him were the early days of Will Middlebrooks. Perhaps he deserves even more credit for continuing to produce in spite of that.
Unfortunately, we cannot take this and head into 2013 feeling confident that we've got one of the best bats in the game in the lineup all thanks to one bizarre heel injury. After pulling up lame following an Adrian Gonzalez home run of all things, Ortiz would miss a month, play one game (2-for-4 with a double) and then miss the rest of the season. It was one of those injuries which started out as a week, extended to two, and then became "we'll see him when we see him."
That something so innocuous could end his season--even in such a terrible year as this one--is certainly worth being concerned over. Ankles are not like wrists, no, but where we know about other injuries, this one is kind of a mystery. We should feel confident about his health heading into 2013. This shouldn't be the sort of thing that wrecks the momentum of Ortiz' incredible resurgence. But until we see him healthy and at the plate again, it's going to be hard not to fret.