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End of the road for Big Papi?

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - David Ortiz has been a notoriously slow starter. This we know, but the way he has looked at the plate this season begs the question - is Big Papi done?

People can almost accept his near-Mendoza line average heading into action on Wednesday. Keep in mind that last season he started the year 3-for-43 (.070) with just three RBI midway through the first month. For his career, he is a .264 hitter in April, .284 in May, and a .305 batter in June. As the weather gets hotter, so does Ortiz.

His 2009 power outage, though, has been alarming.

Through 35 games this season, Big Papi, who had averaged more than 38 home runs in his first six seasons in Beantown, has yet to leave the yard. He has gone 147 at-bats without a homer, the longest drought of his career, topping a 145 at-bat stretch from September 9, 1998 - June 9, 2000 when he played for Minnesota.

For those of you who are counting, that is one less home run than Philadelphia Phillies reliever Chan Ho Park.

So what's the problem?

Not to point out the obvious, but Ortiz's production, which was non-existent in his first six seasons in Minnesota, has dropped off dramatically since the inception of steroid testing.

Not diminishing the suspicion surrounding Ortiz is the fact that his good buddy Manny Ramirez was recently busted. Not to mention former Red Sox utility man Lou Merloni's claims that when he was with the team, they actually had a meeting in which a doctor explained to players how to use steroids intelligently and without abuse.

Did Ortiz take them? Who knows. If I had a gun to my head I would probably say yes, but even if he did and has stopped, it would not sap his strength to the point where he would look like a bottom-of-the-order hitter.

Ortiz may have hit rock-bottom last Thursday in Anaheim, going 0-for-7, while matching a franchise record by leaving 12 men on base. Red Sox skipper Terry Francona then sat him for the next three games. The benching was not a punishment of any sort, just a little break to clear the slugger's head.

He returned on Tuesday, but experienced more of the same, as he went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts.

Ortiz hasn't batted anywhere other than third since early in the 2005 season, but if this continues Francona is going to be forced to drop him in the lineup, if not keep on the bench altogether.

I have always contended that Manny Ramirez made David Ortiz. Ortiz was never the hitter in Minnesota he became in Boston. The only thing that changed that was Manny. Pitchers did not want to face Ramirez. As crazy as it sounds, teams would rather have Ortiz beat them than have to pitch to Manny. Of course, as we know, Ortiz made them pay more times than not, but without Manny he looks ordinary.

Actually, he looks awful.

A likely culprit is that Ortiz is still bothered by the partially torn tendon sheath in his left wrist that required surgery and put him on the disabled list twice last season. If he continues down this path, the Red Sox are going to have no choice but to DL him again to get him right.

Then again, maybe he is just done.

IT'S HIP TO HAVE A HIP INJURY

New York Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado became the latest major leaguer to hop on the hip surgery bandwagon this week and will, at the least, miss the next 10 weeks.

Maybe it is just me, but I can't remember a player having to deal with a torn hip labrum. I remember Bo Jackson and Albert Belle going through hip procedures, but both were due to degenerative hip problems.

Since the end of last season, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, New York Yankees' third baseman Alex Rodriguez and now Delgado have all had to undergo basically the same procedure.

Now the Mets are scrambling for someone to play first. General manager Omar Minaya can say all he wants about handling the void from within with the likes of Fernando Tatis, Jeremy Reed and Daniel Murphy, but I will bet you dollars to doughnuts that someone like Nick Johnson, Aubrey Huff or Adam LaRoche are in Flushing before the month is out.

INTERLEAGUE PLAY RESUMES THIS WEEKEND

My least favorite part of the MLB season gets underway this weekend, as the first round of the interleague play portion of the schedule commences.

I have to admit I was all for it when it first came about back in 1997, but now I am starting to think that maybe the idea has run its course.

It still works in some cities and I am sure there will be plenty of sellouts this weekend, but is anyone in Chicago really hopped up for the White Sox- Pirates matchup? Or in Detroit, where the Tigers are going to battle the Rockies?

Two of the more intriguing matchups include the Mets and Red Sox squaring off at Fenway, while their two biggest rivals do the same in the Bronx, where the Yankees will host the defending world champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Make sure to also check us out at http://balls-and-strikes.blogspot.com/ and at twitter.com/tsnbaseball.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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