EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Sports

April 15, 2013

Napoli's power, production vs. lefties crucial

BOSTON — Mike Napoli is hardly off to an ideal start with his new team, but he had a big hit yesterday.

He drove in Boston’s first two runs, bashing a bases-loaded double to the triangle in center field with no outs in the third inning.

Napoli’s laser and starter Clay Buchholz's dominance (he came within six outs of a no-hitter) led the Red Sox 5-0 over the Tampa Bay Rays here at Fenway Park.

As far as Napoli and the Red Sox are concerned, yesterday, hopefully, is the start of big things for the first baseman, who signed a one-year contract with Boston this offseason and has struggled some offensively.

Beyond his lackluster .217 batting average and two homers, he entered yesterday with an ugly wins above replacement (WAR) of -0.2 and a contact percentage when he swings of 67.9 percent.

His contact percentage is down from 74.1 percent during his tremendous 2011 season and below 70 percent for the first time during his career, meaning he is swinging and missing much more than usual.

Yes, it’s early in the season, only 11 games in, and too early to get bogged down with statistics. But Napoli’s on-base percentage, 25-30 home run power as well as his production against left-handed hurlers is essential to a successful Red Sox offense going forward. Those are three things that certainly interested Boston when signing Napoli.

He definitely made contact and delivered in a key situation yesterday.

“I feel like I’m getting better,” Napoli told The Eagle-Tribune about his swing-and-miss rate. “I’ve been having a little issue with my body taking over to where I’m losing my front side and my head coming off contact. So I’m just really focusing on BP and my tee work and seeing the ball to contact.”

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