Napoli feeling rhythm at the plate vs. Yankees

Napoli feeling rhythm at the plate vs. Yankees
September 14, 2013, 6:00 pm
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(AP Photo)

BOSTON -- Mike Napoli shrugged his shoulders and cocked his head to the side. He had just been asked how he pulled himself out of the slump that saw him hit .190 between July 19 and August 14 and briefly dropped him to seventh in the Red Sox batting order.

"It's just part of baseball," he said. "I've been through it before, too. You just gotta keep grinding and work hard in the cage, and take a lot of [batting practice]. I found something and I feel comfortable."

Napoli explained that he's made one change since the funk, which included one particularly rough three-game stretch when he went 0-12 with nine punchouts between Aug. 10 and Aug. 13.

"For me it was just getting my foot down in time," Napoli said. "I felt like I was rushing my swing and my hands, and I wasn't getting my foot down. I'm starting a little earlier, and that's about it."

Feeling more in rhythm at the plate, Napoli helped lead the Red Sox to a 5-1 win over the Yankees on Saturday afternoon. He got on base four times, hitting two singles, walking twice, and scoring two runs. He came home once in the second inning on a Will Middlebrooks fielder's choice, and scored again after walking, moving to third on a Jonny Gomes double, and coming in on a sac fly by Daniel Nava.

Over the course of the last month, Napoli has been one of the best hitters in the American League. In his last 20 games, he has an on-base percentage of .479 to go along with six homers and 18 RBI.

Though he's still striking out at a high rate -- his total of 176 this season is just one short of Mark Bellhorn's team record -- he's seeing plenty of pitches, and walking on 17 percent of his plate appearances in the last month, up from the 11 percent walk rate he has averaged over the course of the season.

"To his credit," said Red Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn, "his approach didn't really change much. One thing, when guys start to struggle, they change their approach. Nap never really got out of his approach. He battled each at-bat, he didn't give away any. And that's a sign of a good hitter, a smart hitter, a professional hitter, not changing your approach even when you're getting results that aren't the best."

Hitting behind David Ortiz -- on Saturday he was in the clean-up spot -- Napoli is now providing the kind of middle-of-the-order presence the Red Sox envisioned when they signed him to a one-year, $5 million deal in the offseason.

The team initially decided to give Napoli a three-year $39 million dollar deal but backed off when it was found that he had a degenerative hip condition. 

All Napoli has done since then is put together a season in which he has seen more plate appearances than ever before in his career (542). On Thursday, his 165th day on the roster, he was guaranteed the maximum $8 million in incentives that were written into his contract, according to the Boston Globe.

Despite the ups and downs of his season, he's peaking at the right time.

"You know he's gone on and off over the course of the season," Colbrunn said, "but for the last month, he's been really seeing the ball well and staying consistent and putting together some really good at-bats, using the whole field, coming through for us in different situations. It's been fun to watch."

Historically, this has been one of Napoli's best times of the year offensively. In September and October, he has hit .300 with a .397 on-base percentage and a .636 slugging percentage over the course of his eight-year career.

Now that's he's found the other side of his summer slump, he's hoping he can stay there.

"We've been through a lot of stuff before," he said. "For me, I've been in a slump, and I've gotten out of a slump. It's just sticking to the plan and being patient and usually things turn around."