Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli was already on a tear before designated hitter David Ortiz returned to the lineup late last week, but now that Ortiz is hitting in front of him, things now become a lot easier for the 31-year-old in his first season as a Red Sox.
In the first 15 games of the season without Ortiz, Napoli hit fourth with Dustin Pedroia in the No. 3 spot, and any combination of players hitting behind him. With Ortiz having taken over the clean up spot, the Red Sox have a more powerful heart of their order in Pedroia, Ortiz and Napoli. Napoli, perhaps, could benefit the most with the guys in front of him getting on getting on base, giving him the chance to drive them in.
With his grand slam and five-RBI performance Monday night, Napoli is continuing to show he is one of the best hitters in the league right now. He’s reached safely in his last 14 games, hitting .339 in that stretch with nine doubles, one triple, and three home runs. He now has 25 RBIs, tying the Sox record for most RBIs in the first 19 games of a season.
“With David [Ortiz] hitting in front of him, I’m not going to say it makes opposing pitchers pitch differently to him, but he feels very comfortable in this ballpark,” manager John Farrell said. “That has been proven over time. The fact that we’re 19 games into the season and he has 25 RBIs, he’s doing exactly what we hoped he would do in the middle of the order.”
Napoli has thrived with runners in scoring position to open the season. He’s hitting .370 with four doubles, a home run and 19 RBIs when coming to the plate in that situation. He says he’s just taking a simple approach and did acknowledge that he likes having Ortiz hit in front of him.
“I feel good right now, I am just going in there seeing the ball and hitting it,” he said. “I just want to stay square and drive it somewhere. It is nice hitting behind [Ortiz], you get to watch his at-bat and see how the pitcher is. I’m just going in there seeing the ball and hitting the ball.”
Even without Ortiz in the lineup, the team has found ways to score through aggressive base running and timely hitting, as they are fourth in the American League in runs per game with 4.72. Now that Ortiz is in the lineup and Napoli is hitting the way he is, going along with the dominant starting pitching, the Red Sox find themselves in a very good spot, something most did not see coming before the season began.
Follow Metro Red Sox writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @hannable84