Napoli exceeding all expectations early on

Napoli exceeding all expectations early on
April 30, 2013, 10:30 am
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BOSTON -- Going into the season it was unsure what the Red Sox would be able to expect from Mike Napoli. Avascular necrosis was diagnosed in both his hips in the offseason, which resulted in his three-year, $39 million deal being down-scaled to one year at $5 million.

It is likely few would have predicted what the Sox have gotten from their new first baseman since his signing. Playing in all 25 games so far this season, and helping the Sox to a major league-best 18-7 record, his 27 RBI are just one behind Baltimore’s Chris Davis for the major-league lead. His 13 doubles are best in the majors, and a new Sox record for April, as are his 18 extra-base hits. He is batting .280 with an .883 OPS, four home runs, 13 runs scored, and a triple.
 
On the just-completed 10-game home-stand, in which the Red Sox went 7-3, Napoli hit .314, going 11-for-35, with a 1.086 OPS, six doubles, two home runs, five walks, and 15 strikeouts. He averaged an RBI a game, with 10.
 
“It’s nice to have people on base,” he said. “The guys at the top of the order are getting on, getting me opportunities . . . You can try to drive something in the air somewhere, try to get a sac fly, and you hit something in the gap, it’s a bonus."
 
“Trying to get a job done. You try to stay within yourself and don’t waste an at-bat. You get guys in scoring position, just trying to use the gaps and drive something. So things have been going good and I’m going to keep working in the cage, trying to stay square and keep going.”
 
With the return of David Ortiz from the disabled list on April 20, Napoli has been hitting behind the Sox’ DH, in the fifth spot with Ortiz batting clean-up. In the eight games Ortiz has played since then, Napoli has hit .296, going 8-for-27, with four runs scored, five doubles, a home run, and eight RBI.
 
“It’s nice hitting behind him,” Napoli said. “You get to watch his at-bat and see what he does, see how the pitcher attacks him. But I’m just going in there, seeing the ball, and hitting the ball.”
 
All this has been while Napoli has been playing a relatively new position, at first base. Entering this season, of his 672 career defensive games, Napoli had played just 133 games (including 118 starts) at first base, compared to 539 games (485 starts) behind the plate. Last season he made 28 appearances at first, with 24 starts.
 
It’s been an adjustment for Napoli, who has committed one error. He spent extra time working with coach Brian Butterfield in spring training and has continued that work into the season. But, perhaps the relatively decreased workload at first base, compared to catching, will help him throughout the season.
 
“I’m sure it’s freed him up quite a bit,” said manager John Farrell. “When you don’t have to carry a game plan to execute from the mound, the wear and tear physically on low back, lower body with catching a game. I think he missed being in the middle of the action behind the plate, but at the same time I think it’s allowed him to remain more fresh physically overall. Setting aside what he experienced in the offseason and the discovery of the hip condition, but I think just in general it’s kept him much more fresh.”