FORT MYERS, Fla. – It’s been a series of adjustments for Mike Napoli this spring. A new team, a new position, and a schedule that is designed to accommodate the recent diagnosis of avascular necrosis in both hips.
“It’s been a lot easier than previous springs, that’s for sure,” Napoli said with a smile after Wednesday’s workout.
Yes, the former catcher acknowledges that catchers work hard.
“Absolutely, 100 percent,” he said. “I don’t know if it's harder, but they definitely have a lot more to do and have longer days, just working with the pitchers and all their stuff they have to do.”
When he sees the catchers working as a group, he’ll make sure to catch someone’s eye.
“I always give [David] Ross a little smirk-smile, that I know what you’re going thru,” Napoli said. “And he definitely understands what I’m laughing at and smirking at, of course. It’s kind of funny, I miss the position, but it is what it is. This is what I have to do now, and I’m just happy that I still have the opportunity to play the game.”
And he knows he has his work cut out for him playing first base. Of his 672 defensive games over his seven-season career, he’s played just 133 games, with 118 starts, at first base.
“I’ve kind of accepted this, that I’m not going to be catching,” he said. “But, then again, I want to be the best I can at first base. So I’ve been working hard at it. It’s been fun so far.”
In the past few days, Napoli would go through the regular workout with the team and then work with coach Brian Butterfield, taking about 100 groundballs at first base. He got a day off from his extra work on Wednesday.
“They gave me a little blow today, just to get my legs back under me,” he said. “But yeah, I told them I want to work as much as possible out there, if it’s possible. But with the medical thing, they just want me to take it slow with how long spring training is. So, whatever they say, I’ll do.”
The “medical thing” is what caused the Red Sox to rework their free agent offer to Napoli, lowering it from three years and $39 million to one year at $5 million, plus incentives.
Napoli also had to adjust his offseason workouts to accommodate his hip condition.
“I didn’t do a lot of high-impact stuff,” he said. “I didn't do squats with the bar on my back, no jumping. I didn’t run. But I also did stuff to where, I’m starting to run now and doing agilities now. So it’s stuff so that when I do start it, it’s not going to take really long for me to run at full speed.”
The Sox start their exhibition schedule Thursday with games against Northeastern and Boston College, a doubleheader of two seven-inning games. Their Grapefruit League schedule begins Saturday when they host the Rays. But Napoli doesn't yet know when he will make his game debut, as the Sox are taking the cautious approach with him this spring, holding him back and bringing him along at a slower pace.
He understands the decision.
“See, I never felt anything in my hips,” he said. “So I felt like I could go and do everything because obviously I don’t feel anything. But they just want me to be smart about it and the unnecessary impact stuff that I don’t have to do, I’m not going to do it. I’ve been running in the pool, the Alter-G machine [anti-gravity treadmill]. So I’ve been running and doing that stuff. But I’ll just take the necessary steps, I guess.
“They had something mapped out [for games] but I know it’s not these first couple games. But I don’t know. I still got to run the bases and stuff. So I have no idea.”
When he does get into games, it will likely be just a few innings to begin, then progressively adding innings and at-bats.
“Everything is mapped out for me to be ready for Opening Day,” he said.