Will Middlebrooks has a message for those who might be curious about the status of Mike Napoli: Don’t worry.
The Red Sox third baseman has been working out with his new teammate at the Athlete’s Performance facility near Dallas and reports he has seen no ill-effects from Napoli’s recently-diagnosed avascular necrosis. (In case you missed it, the AVN ailment is a degenerative disease that kills bone tissue.)
‘Not at all,’ said Middlebrooks when asked if Napoli has shown any signs of being hindered by the condition. ‘It doesn’t hurt him, and he’ll tell you the same thing. It’s just one of those things that’s tough because he doesn’t have any of the symptoms, but it’s there.’
Physical issues aside, after spending time with Napoli at the training facility, Middlebrooks feels the first baseman is a great fit for what the Red Sox need.
‘He’s awesome,’ the third baseman said. ‘He’s fun to be around. He’s been one of my main hitting partners during the past month. He’s going to be great for this clubhouse.’
One of the chief concerns which surfaces when analyzing Napoli’s effectiveness at first base is what it might mean for Middlebrooks’ mindset.
With Napoli entering into being a full-time first baseman for the first time in his career ‘ having previously played 133 of his 672 career games at the position ‘ his ability to prevent errant throws from the other three infielders has been a talking point.
MIddlebrooks, who has been playing catch with Napoli at AP, doesn’t foresee the dynamic being an issue.
‘You have to trust him to know if have to make a play, or you have to throw a ball low and one-hop it to him, he’s going to catch it,’ the third baseman said. ‘There’s a lot of balls you have to just get rid of and I’m not going to make the best throw. Having Adrian over there was nice because he caught everything.
‘I don’t think it’s a problem, but of course I haven’t short-hopped him playing catch. I think everything is going to be fine, and if I make a bad throw that’s on me. But I think it’s going to be fine.’
Middlebrooks believes that the time he put in on major league fields during 2012 ‘ before having his season ended with a fractured right wrist ‘ is going to make everybody’s life easier.
The improvement started with getting a new glove, (‘They sent me one of the gloves that Pedey uses and it was so much better. I had that old glove I was using in the minor leagues and it just wasn’t cutting it anymore,’ he said) and continued with improved confidence.
He didn’t make an error in any of his last 17 games (47 chances) after having committed nine miscues in his previous 56 appearances.
‘Most of that was studying and knowing how to play certain players,’ said Middlebrooks, who saw the Red Sox go 42-31 when he played. ‘That first month or two up here, my first time seeing hitters, I didn’t know how to play them. I might be playing too far in and they’re smoking balls at me. And then other guys are fast guys and I’m playing too deep and they’re beating my throw over there. It’s just learning where to play guys in certain situations.’
And what about the health of his wrist?
‘I have no restrictions at all, he said. ‘I can say I’m 100 percent.’