Ortiz makes rare start at first to spell Napoli

Ortiz makes rare start at first to spell Napoli

BOSTON -- For nearly a decade, it was a certainty that David Ortiz would only need his first baseman's mitt for a road Interleague or World Series game, in which the Red Sox did not have the designated hitter. But things changed on Sunday, as the slugger got the nod at first and the heavily-slumping Mike Napoli was on the bench.

Hanley Ramirez served as the designated hitter for the finale vs. the Astros. This was Ortiz's first start at first base in a game being played under American League rules since June 22, 2006, at Seattle. It was his first Fenway start at first since July 16, 2005.

"Well, today's lineup I think gives us the best lineup we can put on the field," manager John Farrell said before the Red Sox's 5-4 win. "[We] recognize that it's been quite some time since David has played first base in an American League game. It also gives us the ability to put Alejandro De Aza in left field. It's about putting the best lineup on the field today."

Ortiz playing first will not become a staple for the Red Sox. This seemed to be an isolated occurrence, and the Red Sox have a day off on Monday in which the 39-year-old DH will be able to rest his legs. He was also not forced to the play the entire game in the field on Sunday, as Napoli replaced him at first after Ramirez hit a go-ahead homer in the seventh.

"I don't know how frequently we would see this going forward," said Farrell. "David and I had a chance to talk after the game last night, then this morning. Tomorrow with an off-day, this was kind of an ideal set of circumstances to get him at first base."

If Napoli continues to struggle, the Red Sox would have the option of getting Brock Holt more regular playing time at first base once Dustin Pedroia returns from the disabled list.

Ortiz has generally held his own while playing first for the Red Sox, making standout plays in the World Series in both 2004 and '07.

"A guy like me, when I play first base, the thing is that when you're playing defense out there you got to do a lot of bending and a lot of moving. You're moving a lot every time the pitcher makes a pitch," said Ortiz. "So maybe the next day you feel a little sore or whatever, but it goes away. I kind of start feeling things out as the game goes and try not to go too crazy."

Napoli's struggles have been one of the surprises of the season. The first baseman is hitting .192 with 10 homers, 30 RBIs and a .652 OPS.

"Napoli's what, 32 years old? He's still young," said Ortiz. "He's going to come out of it. It's just not that easy to come out of it. You can have a good game and that gives you the positive vibe, and all of a sudden you are hitting. It's just like, when you never see that game come, you just keep on digging and digging and digging, and it's hard to come out of it."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.