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Mike Napoli gets tested immediately — and passes

03.01.13 at 7:37 pm ET
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Mike Napoli was tested early in the field and on the bases in his first Red Sox game. (AP)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Any thoughts that the Red Sox had about easing Mike Napoli into action vanished exactly one pitch into the first baseman’s first game in a Sox uniform.

With Jon Lester on the mound, Pirates center fielder Darren Ford pushed a bunt past the pitcher’s mound to Napoli. He fielded it cleanly and sprinted to first base just ahead of the sliding Ford, whose decision to hit the dirt forced Napoli to hop over him.

The full test continued in the bottom of the first, as Napoli negotiated a full-count against Pirates starter Jeff Locke (a left-hander) before scorching an RBI single up the middle off of Locke’s foot and into left field. He then advanced from first to third on Stephen Drew‘s double and scored (standing) from third on a wild pitch.

In other words, aside from sliding, Napoli had a chance to check just about every box in just one inning of his first game test of 2013. It underscored the idea that, despite the amount of attention conferred upon his degenerative condition in both hips (avascular necrosis), to this point, he looks very much like an unencumbered baseball player.

“He’s passed all the tests that we’ve put him through. There’s been no restrictions. Even when he was taking (batting practice) in the offseason, it was apparent that his lower half was free and we’re looking forward to getting him into the flow of things,” manager John Farrell said before the game.

That effort continued beyond the first inning, as Napoli also flipped to Lester after fielding a grounder for an out, caught a foul pop-up by the Pirates dugout, handled a throw from Dustin Pedroia on a slow roller and finished off the second by catching a bounced Lester throw on a Jose Tabata just before the Pirates hitter crossed the bag. In his second at-bat in the third inning, he struck out on a changeup from Locke.

His night ended after four innings, in which he went 0-for-2 while handling every defensive opportunity that came his way. It would have been nearly impossible for the Sox to script such a thorough integration of the first baseman into the team.

“I felt like I got everything out of the way  those first two innings. I had seen everything. It was fun. I had a good time out there,” said Napoli. “That’s the way I want it. I want to get as many balls as possible over there but I felt good over there and was just doing the things we worked on on the backfield and we’ll go from there. … Everything felt good, my legs felt good, and I was happy to be in there.”

To see video of Napoli’s RBI single up the middle, click here.

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