Red Sox Might Have to Consider Bigger Change If Mike Napoli Can’t Break Out of Slump

Mike NapoliEven though the Red Sox’ wagon keeps rolling, Mike Napoli remains stuck in the mud.

Napoli is mired in the worst slump of his career, and the situation isn’t getting any better. Red Sox manager John Farrell dropped Napoli to seventh in the order for Wednesday’s game in Toronto, marking the lowest that Napoli has hit in the lineup all season. If things continue on their current path, Napoli might find himself out of the lineup altogether more frequently.

Farrell explained his decision to drop Napoli to seventh during a radio interview on WEEI’s Salk & Holley on Wednesday, and it’s clear that the Red Sox skipper is more than willing to shake things up.

“We moved him down to the seven hole [Wednesday], and we wanted him to know that we recognize he’s grinding and he’s going through a stretch where things haven’t gone his way,” Farrell said. “We haven’t lost confidence in him, and yet we feel like there have been opportunities that have presented themselves where he’s come up in some big spots.

“I mentioned to him today, we’re going to put [him] down in the seven hole, that will put [Jonny] Gomes in the five hole behind [David] Ortiz, [Stephen] Drew’s in the six hole. We still want to protect that right/lefty alternating in the lineup because we’re going up against a team with three lefties in their bullpen, and we don’t want to get exposed one side or the other. I just felt like as Mike is working through this, he’s dropped down in the lineup and we may pick some spots throughout the course of a given week to get him off his feet and keep him as fresh as possible.”

Napoli enters Wednesday’s game hitless in his last three contests, during which he’s 0-for-12 with nine strikeouts. His struggles extend well beyond the three-game sample, though, and it’s starting to look like Mike Carp might be the better first base option if Napoli can’t reverse his fortunes.

The biggest issue plaguing Napoli is the number of strikeouts. It’s something that’s always been part of Napoli’s game, but his 34.3 percent strikeout rate this season is well above his 26.7 percent career mark. He has struck out a major league-leading 158 times in 2013, and he’s on pace to shatter Mark Bellhorn’s single-season Red Sox record of 177 strikeouts, which was set back in 2004.

“No. I don’t think I’ve ever been through something like this,” Napoli told WEEI.com. “It’s been pretty tough. Every time I go up there I feel like it could be the AB that gets me going. It’s weird. I get a couple of steps forward, feeling pretty good, and then I go backwards. But my confidence level is where every time I go up there I feel like I’m going to do something good.”

Napoli’s struggles haven’t crippled the Red Sox’ offense this season as much as they could, mainly because of the team’s depth. The Sox continue to receive offensive contributions from various sources, and in turn, they’ve been able to overcome stretches of inconsistency by one or more members of the lineup, including Napoli.

Napoli clearly has the potential to succeed. We saw it earlier this season when he was one of the most productive run-producers in baseball in April, and we also saw it when Napoli hit .383 after the All-Star break as a member of the Rangers in 2011. But if Napoli doesn’t turn things around soon and the Red Sox keep the struggling slugger in the lineup, it could catch up to them.

Napoli has stranded 229 runners this season. That’s the most in the majors, and it puts him in position to break the Red Sox’ single-season record of 294, set by Jim Rice in 1984. The difference is that Rice hit 28 home runs, compiled 122 RBIs and hit .280 that season, whereas Napoli looks really uncomfortable at the dish.

If Farrell ultimately decides to cut Napoli’s playing time, Carp will likely see a bulk of the action, and he has proven this season that he could be more than just a role player.

Carp enters Wednesday’s action hitting .309 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs. He owns a .333 average (34-for-102) in 33 games since June 1, he has reached base in 33 of his 44 starts, and 24 of his 51 hits this season have gone for extra bases. Among AL players with at least 150 plate appearances, Carp ranks fifth in slugging percentage with a .564 mark.

The Red Sox could also opt to give Daniel Nava more playing time at first base and plug Gomes into the outfield more frequently, although that would represent a bit of a downgrade defensively.

Napoli is going to keep grinding, and the Red Sox are going to keep him in the lineup — albeit a different spot — for now. But there could come a point where his strikeouts and lack of production are just too much to bear, and that could make a bigger change more necessary.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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