Napoli looks solid in debut
All eyes were on the new first baseman tonight. After weeks — in fact months — of hearing about Mike Napoli’s hips, he played a game for the Red Sox tonight against the Pirates.
And of course, he got tested on the very first pitch of the game. The Pirates’ Darren Ford dropped a hard bunt to first base. Napoli grabbed it and raced to the bag, where he beat Ford on a bang-bang play.
Then he got to bat in the first inning, and Napoli scalded a single off of the foot of Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke. Stephen Drew ripped a double, and Napoli looked comfortable going first to third. Napoli then scored on a wild pitch.
He was again tested on defense in the second. Pedro Alvarez hit a grounder to Napoli, and he made the flip to Jon Lester for the out. Napoli then made a catch on a foul ball by Brandon Inge just in front of the visitors’ dugout. Napoli made a few more routine plays on defense, and struck out in his second at-bat. When the Red Sox came out for defense to start the fifth inning, Napoli was replaced by Lyle Overbay at first.
It was a solid first impression.
The Red Sox had high hopes for Napoli when they originally agreed to terms on a three-year, $39-million pact back in December. Though the contract is now just for one year, the club remains confident that Napoli can be an impact bat in the middle of the lineup.
“Well he’s passed all the tests that we’ve put him through,” said manager John Farrell. “There’s been no restrictions. Even when he was taking BP in the offseason, it was apparent that his lower half was free and we’re looking forward to getting him into the flow of things starting tonight.”
Napoli maintains that he is symptom free from the hip condition — avascluar neucrosis — he was diagnosed with. And he vowed not to be thinking about it when he is on the field.
“Just play the game,” Napoli said. “That’s the best way to go at it. That’s the way I’ve always done it. I’m just going to play the game and let things happen. When you start worrying about things like, ‘I can’t slide, I shouldn’t slide,’ that’s when you get in between and hurt yourself.”
As for the transition to first base after serving as a primary catcher for all of his career until now?
“I feel a lot more comfortable over there, especially turning the double play, where my feet should be, where I should be taking the ball and receiving the ball,” said Napoli. “It’s been going [well].”