Mike Napoli finally made his spring training debut for the Boston Red Sox, and the Red Sox have to like what they saw. Napoli hit the ball hard and seemed to be very comfortable around the first base bag, both really good signs.
This past off-season was very odd for both Napoli and the Red Sox. After initially signing the 31-year old as a free-agent, the Boston medical staff found a degenerative condition in his hip. That medical condition cost Napoli $34 million, turning the contract from a three-year deal for $39 million down to a team-friendly one-year deal for only $5 million.
Once the hip condition was reveal by the team, there was a definite concern about the Red Sox’ age and health, given that David Ortiz has yet to return to the team’s lineup, and Napoli’s start to spring was delayed.
Napoli is expected to be the big offensive addition to the Red Sox lineup, protecting Dustin Pedroia and Ortiz. If the former Texas Rangers slugger can resemble the player he was in 2011 – a year when he hit 30 home runs and drove in 75 runs, while hitting to a slash line of .320/.414/.631 – the Red Sox offense will be a formidable force in the American League.
With all of the questions about his health, the catcher/first baseman looks to be motivated to have a big year and show everyone that his hip condition won’t impact his game.
At the start of the game, the ball found Napoli immediately at first base. Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Darren Ford tried to push a bunt up the first base line, and Napoli cleanly fielded the ball cleanly and made the play. During the four innings that he played, he handled multiple opportunities at first base, making all of the plays in and around the bag.
For what it is worth, Napoli said that he felt good after the game. Getting him back quickly allows the Red Sox to have Ortiz take his time returning to the lineup at his pace, and not rushing things because of the concerns about the Boston offense.
Napoli’s debut affords Red Sox’ fans a chance to take a deep breath, especially after the injury scare to Will Middlebrooks earlier in the week.
This was another quietly positive step for the Red Sox this spring – just what they needed.
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