Mike Napoli finds success deep in counts
July, 24, 2012
By David Collier | ESPNDallas.com
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers catcher Mike Napoli stepped into the batter's box in the sixth inning Monday against the Boston Red Sox with two strikeouts on his ledger. Nelson Cruz was standing on first when Napoli dug in and fouled off the first two pitches he saw. After the second foul ball, Napoli glanced in the dugout and found David Murphy smiling.
"It's not like we talked about it (or) anything, but he looked at me and I was smiling because I knew that he had just missed that pitch," Murphy said after the Rangers' 9-1 win. "He was looking at me and it was like we were both thinking the same thing. In my head, I'm thinking he's going to hit a home run that at-bat. I had a feeling."
Napoli was in a prime position to strike out again, but instead he battled. He fouled off two pitches and worked himself into a 3-2 count. Then he got another fastball, but this time he didn't miss it. Instead, he hit a towering shot over the left-field wall that was a no-doubter right off the bat.
"I didn't call it, so I can't take credit for it because I kept it inside," Murphy said. "(Josh) Hamilton called it though."
Although he's had his struggles at the plate this season, Napoli has a history of producing when reaching a full count. According to Mark Simon of ESPN Stats and Information, Napoli hit .279 in 3-2 counts in 2011. What's more impressive is that he was 11-for-37 (.297) with four home runs in that situation in the second half of last season.
"He does a great job with battling, especially for a guy that strikes out a lot," Murphy said. "He's a catcher that hits for power and he'll have your strikeouts, and I think everyone is fine with that. But he works deep into counts, and he has plenty of good at-bats where he gets to 3-2. Sometimes when you battle all the way back, you get the hits. And tonight he got the big hit."
Going into Monday's matchup, Napoli was hitting just .167 in full counts. But Monday's home run may be a sign that Napoli is seeing the ball better.
"I'm feeling better. I'm just trying to go up there and have a tough at-bat every time and just try to stay consistent throughout the game," Napoli said. "... It's been a work in progress in the cages, and I'm just trying to carry it over to the game. The last couple of games it's been feeling better, and I'm going to keep working to carry it over."
Napoli certainly carried it over on Monday. The sixth-inning home run was his third home run of the season in a 3-2 count. Last year, Napoli tallied six home runs in full counts, which was tied for third behind Jose Bautista's eight home runs and Joey Votto's seven.
"I'm the type of guy that likes to take a lot of pitches," Napoli said. "I like to get involved in the at-bat and see what a guy has and try to zone up and get a pitch that I can hit. That's how I've always been in my career, and I'm starting to feel better as it comes along."
Another interesting trend is Napoli's success against the Red Sox. He is hitting .300 (36-120) with 15 home runs and 33 RBIs in 36 career games versus Boston, including a .538 mark with four home runs and 10 RBIs in three games this season.
The 30-year-old has hit a home run in four consecutive games against the Red Sox. It is the second time in his career he has achieved that feat. According to Elias, the only two other players that have at least two streaks of four home runs against Boston are Lou Gehrig and Harmon Killebrew. That's some pretty good company.
"Players have teams that they hit well against," Napoli said. "It just happens that I'm hitting kind of good against (Boston). I try to do the same thing every day. It just happens that way."
Napoli has now faced two teams in a row that he swings the bat well against in the Los Angeles Angels and the Red Sox. Will this get him going in the second half of the season like it did a year ago?