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John Farrell on Mike Napoli: ‘I’d hate to think where we’d be without him’

04.23.13 at 1:06 am ET
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In 2011, Mike Napoli hit .320 and slugged .631 with 30 home runs for the Rangers. He said Monday that his swing feels the same way now as it did especially after the All-Star break that year, when he put up a .383/.466/.706 line.

“Last year I really was up and down,” Napoli said Monday. “I didn’t really feel like this last year. [In] 2011, this is how I felt the second half of the year.”

On Monday night, Napoli hit a grand slam and a double, finishing with 5 RBIs, in a 9-6 Red Sox win over the A’s on Monday. After starting slowly in the season’s first few weeks, Napoli is now hitting like the player the Red Sox had hoped to see when they signed him in the offseason. He has four home runs, 25 RBIs and 21 doubles on the year, to go with a 1.001 OPS at Fenway.

Napoli’s past success at Fenway — he entered the season with a 1.107 OPS there — certainly played into the Sox’ pursuit of him in the offseason.

“What he’s done in this ballpark over the course of his career — those things are beacons when you go to select a player, and he’s a very good fit here,” Sox manager John Farrell said.

“I’ve been feeling good on the road too, but I love Fenway,” Napoli said. “You’ve got the wall right there and you can maybe get away with some stuff. You don’t necessarily have to hit it so good. Sometimes you hit a pop fly that would be an out in another park but it goes off the wall, so it’s definitely fun hitting here.”

Napoli drove in seven runs in his first eight games, hitting just .176 with a .200 OBP in that span. Since then, thanks in part to some tweaks in his swing, he’s hitting .356, with 10 extra-base hits and 18 RBIs in 11 games.

“[The] first couple series, I wasn’t feeling too good,” Napoli said. “I was a little long and I was leaking a little bit. So I went into the cage and I practiced staying closed and being short to the ball, so I know it’s working and I’m going to keep doing it.”

Before this year, Napoli was a rival for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, dating back to the days when Napoli was an Angel and Saltalamacchia a Ranger. Having faced the task of guiding pitchers through at-bats against him, Saltalamacchia said he’s glad to be on Napoli’s side now.

“He hits things with one hand and it goes out,” Saltalamacchia said. “It’s nice to have him in our lineup for sure. Napoli’s got a great idea at the plate — there’s pitches that look like they’re going to be balls and he still hits them, so that’s a tough guy to pitch around. I know we tried for years.”

With David Ortiz missing the first 15 games of the season and hitters like Will Middlebrooks slumping over the last few weeks, Napoli’s contributions in the middle of the order have been especially indispensable.

Now that Ortiz has returned, and will likely hit in front of him most of the time, Napoli could have even more chances to add to his skyrocketing RBI totals. He drove his double to right field and his grand slam to center on Monday, with Ortiz on base both times.

“He uses the whole field,” Farrell said. “I don’t know that there’s only one way you can pitch him consistently. And he’s got not only a good approach, but he’s able to pick out certain pitches and look to attack. I’d hate to think where we’d be without him.”

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