Friday, July 8, 2011
Napoli's return creating Ranger success
By Travis L. Brown
ARLINTON, Texas -- In the 19 games leading up to July 4, the Rangers were mired in an 8-11 skid, including two losses to the New York Mets, two to the Houston Astros and two to the Florida Marlins.
Enter Mike Napoli.
The Rangers have won five straight after Friday’s 8-5 vicotry over Oakland, thanks in part to Napoli going 6-for-16 with two home runs and eight RBIs since coming off the disabled list Monday.
Napoli’s tear continued Friday right off the bat when he launched his third career grand slam over the left-field fence in the first inning. He added doubles in the fifth inning and the seventh, marking the third time this season a Ranger has recorded three extra-base hits in a game.
“He swings a big bat, man,” winning pitcher C.J. Wilson said. “He was on everything. He’s a really dangerous hitter because he can go on those streaks where it’s like everything is extra-bases because he doesn’t swing for infield hits and bunts. He does damage every time he puts the ball in play.”
Napoli said he found his offensive spark while on rehab assignment at Triple-A Round Rock, where he went 4-for-15 with three home runs, including a walk-off dinger in his last game before he was activated.
“I was down in Triple-A and hadn’t seen pitching in three weeks,” Napoli said. “I was trying to keep everything slow and simple, and it just kind of clicked for me. I’m just trying to stick to the same thing and ride it out.”
Beyond what Napoli’s power surge does for the Rangers through the course of the game, the team is now 11-0 when Napoli goes deep this season.
Napoli’s return also brings strength behind the plate with his team-leading 2.71 catchers ERA and no passed balls this season. His management of the Rangers' pitching staff comes not only from his skill of calling a good game, but knowledge of the Rangers pitchers' tendencies from hitting against them during his time with the division rival Angels, Wilson said.
Napoli’s ability behind the plate was in question for this season after he spent the majority of 2010 playing first base after Kendrys Morales went down for the year, but Wilson said he’s proven any critic wrong with his defense in 2011.
“He’s a catching/slugger or a slugging/catcher,” Wilson said. “He’s got the slash in there which is really important.”