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Brian Butterfield on M&M: Mike Napoli ‘a guy that’s going to chase you down to get some extra work’

05.01.13 at 12:07 pm ET

Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield joined Mut & Merloni Wednesday to discuss Mike Napoli‘s play at first base, his approach to defensive shifts as a coach and how David Ortiz has thwarted other teams’ shifts.

Butterfield also addressed the strange situation that arose in Tuesday’s Red Sox game, in which Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s throw to first sailed off target after his arm made contact with the umpire’s facemask.

Saltalamacchia didn’t bring up the issue at the time, he said, because he wasn’t aware the play should be called dead, and Butterfield said nobody else quite knew what happened until the moment had passed.

“I don’t think anybody really saw it until after the fact,” Butterfield said. “I didn’t see it, because you’re watching to see what the runner’s doing, and you see Salty come out of the chute, and your eyes gravitate over toward first base and we saw the ball go out in right field. So I don’t think anybody saw it from the dugout, and then when it was finally realized it it was a little bit too late.”

Butterfield said Napoli, who has spent much more time at catcher than first base over his career, has worked tirelessly to improve his defense at first.

“He’s a hard worker,” Butterfield said. “He’s a guy that’s going to chase you down to get some extra work. It’s not a case with some players that you’ve seen in the past where you’ve got to hunt him down to work defensively, to make them better defensively. He’s a tremendous kid. Nap works. He cares about everything we do. He wants to be a great defender. He’s very accountable. When he doesn’t pick a ball, he’s very upset with himself because he feels like he let his infielder down.

“He’s handling the welfare of three other infielders and a pitcher and a catcher, and the No. 1 priority is being able to get around that bag, and being able to adjust and pick balls out of the dirt and be athletic. And sometimes it’s an underrated thing because the profile is to have that first baseman be a home run hitter, which Nap has provided, and we knew he was going to provide that, but we’ve been very pleased with the way he works and how diligent he is.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Red Sox coverage, to go weei.com/redsox.

On Will Middlebrooks’ role in defensive shifts: “As things have evolved and we’ve had a a chance to see Brooksie play defense and do some things, we’ve realized, this guy’s 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5, but he’s a tremendous athlete. He’s got body control, he’s fearless, and when we first started talking to him about playing some different positions, playing a rover position, playing over by second base, he said, ‘Whatever it takes. I’m not afraid to go over to the right side.’ For a young player, he’s been able to step in and play relaxed and play with confidence even though he hasn’t gotten out of the gate like you’d like to offensively. ‘€¦ He’s another guy that I didn’t have to chase him down during spring training because he wanted to get that extra work, and he’s on board with everything we’re doing.”

On his emphasis on defensive positioning in general: “There’s a lot of video work that we have to do. ‘€¦ We spend a lot of time as coaches on the video. We try to look at tendencies. We’re still trying to get a real good feel on what the pitchers’ strengths are, and then you look at tendencies. If you eliminated all the bases from the field, if Abner Doubleday hadn’t put out bases, and you just looked at where guys hit the ball, people really wouldn’t concern themselves too much with playing two guys on the left side and two guys on the right side, as much as putting people in places where there is the greatest tendency for them to hit ground balls.

“That’s basically what we try to do. The nature of it is, you’re not always right. You’ll go through periods where they’ll hit the ball where your guys are and then you go through periods where they don’t hit it where your guys are. The thing that we try to always reaffirm to the players is remember, we’re not trying to defend broken bats or balls squibbed off the end of the bat. We’re trying to defend balls hit firmly off the barrel of the bat.”

On David Ortiz hitting against the shift: “He’s a guy that we tried to overshift for years. ‘€¦ I’ve never seen a guy that can manipulate the barrel of the bat as a power hitter like David can. I’m just in amazement every day watching him take batting practice. It seems as though he’s gotten better. He’s better at being able to maneuver the ball to the left side of the field. I’ve seen people with three people on the pull side and the one dog by himself over on the left side with a runner in scoring position, and all David wants to do is win a game and drive in a run. So far he’s just made a lot of people pay for it. It sure is nice that we’re on the same side so we don’t have to defend that big guy.”

On working with John Farrell in Boston compared to in Toronto: “Without a doubt there’s a difference. I think it’s just the evolution of a guy who hasn’t had a lot of managing experience but he’s highly intelligent. He’s a baseball guy. He takes care of his coaches. I just think he’s more comfortable in a managerial role. … There’s an awful lot of responsibility that a manager has, and I think as the repetition continues to get better, he’s a lot more confident. He’s just like everybody else that has done it a little bit more — you can see the confidence and it seems like he’s enjoying himself a lot more. I think he loves being in this city, too.”

On whether Jose Iglesias has a chance to be an elite defender in the majors: “From the short period of time that I’ve seen Iggy play defense, I think he most definitely does. ‘€¦ Iggy has matured to a point where he has gained the trust of his teammates, managers and coaches. He’s starting to value the baseball a lot more than he ever has, and that’s important. Having said that, looking at Stephen Drew, he’s a guy that I absolutely love, and if you look at the scoreboard and see he’s hitting .160, that doesn’t matter to me. A guy that catches the baseball consistently, can take away hits and is tough, intelligent and unselfish is the kind of quarterback we need to be playing shortstop in order to pour champagne on each other’s heads at the end of the year.”

Read More: brian butterfield, David Ortiz, mike napoli,
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