Napoli, making his spring training debut for the Red Sox, made a few plays in the field, contributed an RBI single to kick off Boston’s scoring and left no doubt that he’s healthy with Opening Day exactly one month away.
Napoli was diagnosed with a hip condition known as avascular necrosis during the offseason, and while he has stated multiple times that he hasn’t experienced any symptoms of the ailment, the Red Sox have brought him along slowly in order to ease his workload. It’s a cautious approach, but it’s one that’s understandable, especially given the rather unpredictable nature of his condition.
The 31-year-old’s hips were tested right away on Friday, though. Pirates center fielder Darren Ford pushed a bunt down the first-base line past Jon Lester. Napoli, who is set to embark on his first season as an everyday first baseman after years behind the plate, fielded the ball cleanly, and sprinted over to the bag to record the putout himself. Napoli even had to dance around the speedy Ford, who hit the dirt in an effort to slide in safely, but he didn’t seem to have any problem doing so.
Napoli has worked extensively with Red Sox infield/third base coach Brian Butterfield this spring, and much of what the catcher-turned-first baseman has learned has been in regards to his footwork. Napoli admitted recently that he used to just try and be athletic in an effort to make a play, but now that he’s been working down at first base on a daily basis, he’s well-versed when it comes to the proper technique and positioning.
Napoli enters 2013 with 133 total games at first base to his credit. That’s a decent sample size, but it still wouldn’t be all that surprising to see some growing pains as he makes the full-time position change. Because of that, how Napoli performs down at first base this spring is actually more important than how he looks at the plate.
For what it’s worth, though, Napoli looked comfortable at the dish on Friday. He struck out in his second at-bat in the third inning, but he hit a rocket off Pirates starter Jeff Locke in the first inning. The ball ricocheted off the lefty and ended up in shallow left field, allowing Dustin Pedroia to come around with the game’s first run.
“I felt like I got everything out of the way those first two innings,” Napoli told reporters in Fort Myers. “I had seen everything. It was fun. I had a good time out there. That’s the way I want it. I want to get as many balls as possible over there but I felt good over there and was just doing the things we worked on on the back field and we’ll go from there.”
Napoli was replaced by Mike Carp to begin the fifth inning, but it was a successful first start overall. The on-field results were just a bonus added to what really mattered at the end of the day: Napoli’s health.
“Everything felt good, my legs felt good, and I was happy to be in there,” Napoli said.
Now, it’s time for Napoli to rest up and get ready to hit the books. The slugger’s next test will likely come on Sunday, when the Red Sox host the Yankees at JetBlue Park.