BOSTON — The Red Sox might want to check who’s wearing No. 12. It hasn’t looked like Mike Napoli.
To be fair, it’s still very early in the season, and it’s possible, if not likely, Napoli soon will heat up in a big way. But after a spring training in which Napoli completely obliterated Grapefruit League pitching, in turn creating sky-high expectations, the first baseman has struggled to carry over that success.
“We’re talking about someone who’s got a proven track record as a power hitter and plays very good defense at first base for us,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. “We’re certainly not going to turn away from him by any means. But like I said, he’s important to us, and we’ve got to get him going.”
Napoli is hitting .160 (12-for-75) with one homer, four RBIs and a .520 OPS in 21 games this season, which is hardly the type of production the Red Sox have come to expect from the 33-year-old, especially on the heels of a spring in which he hit .400 (16-for-40) with a team-high six homers, 11 RBIs and a 1.342 OPS.
One obviously could point to Napoli’s spring success as a reminder not to put too much stock into numbers posted before Opening Day. But what’s the point? Napoli and the Red Sox are best served exerting their energy toward solving the slugger’s offensive woes in order to make the lineup as dynamic as possible. Right now, there’s a bit of a hole in the middle, and the unit’s production has been sporadic.
“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily important (and) I’m not saying it’s not important, either,” Mookie Betts said in defense of his teammate when asked about Napoli’s struggles. “I know that he’ll come around.”
Napoli went 0-for-4 on Saturday and left five men on base. He grounded into a double play with two on in the fourth inning, flied out with two on in the fifth inning and struck out with the potential tying run on first base in the eighth inning.
It was a disappointing effort, to say the least, but don’t expect anyone, including Napoli, to hang their heads. Napoli’s emergence remains important, evidenced by the critical role he played two years ago during the Red Sox’s World Series run.
“He’s at times just missing pitches he’s normally put some good swings on,” Farrell said. “(Friday night) he doubles into right-center field, he takes a key walk against (Dellin) Betances. There’s been times where he’s expanded the strike zone a little bit more than we’ve seen in the past.
“A couple of opportunities in the middle innings (Saturday) that unfortunately he was unable to cash in on. But when he’s going right, or as capable, it makes our lineup completely different, and he’s important to us.”
Napoli hasn’t hit the ground running, like many, including yours truly, expected following a productive offseason procedure and a monster spring. It isn’t time to panic, especially with other offensive weapons to pick up the slack when someone goes cold, but his early season struggles are a notable development.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images