CLEVELAND -- The fans in the left-field bleachers seats need to be ready when Mike Napoli steps to the plate. Even if the Cleveland slugger goes down swinging, which he did in his first two at-bats on Saturday night, the next hack he takes might be a different story."Next thing
CLEVELAND -- The fans in the left-field bleachers seats need to be ready when Mike Napoli steps to the plate. Even if the Cleveland slugger goes down swinging, which he did in his first two at-bats on Saturday night, the next hack he takes might be a different story.
"Next thing you know, boom," Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said after the Tribe's 7-1 victory over the Royals.
The boom arrived in the sixth inning on Saturday, when Napoli launched a solo home run over Progressive Field's wall for his 13th long ball of the season. The first baseman's showing against the Royals, who are now looking up at the first-place Tribe, served as a microcosm of his season to date: One home run, one walk and a pair of strikeouts.
Napoli's combination of patience and power can be frustrating, because there are peaks (he has five homers, 11 RBIs and a .781 slugging percentage through nine games on this homestand, for example) and valleys (like when he struck out in eight straight at-bats from May 20-22). Cleveland knew the risk when it signed the veteran to a one-year pact over the winter, but the club also knew the potential reward.
So far, there has been enough of a feast to overcome the occasional famine.
"He's smart enough to know that he's going to strike out," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He swings hard and he's trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark, which is what he's supposed to do. He can have an at-bat where he strikes out, but he knows one good swing can change a game. Fortunately, he's taken a lot of those."
On the season, the 34-year-old Napoli has hit .238 with the third-highest strikeout percentage (34.9 percent) in the American League through 50 games. The slugger has countered those categories with a .503 slugging percentage and 41 RBIs, which are tied with Mike Trout for the sixth-most in the AL. Napoli also entered Saturday with baseball's best rate of pitches per plate appearance (4.72).
For all the Indians fans who have clamored for Cleveland to find a right-handed power bat for the heart of the order, Napoli has provided as much to date. As of right now, he is on pace for 36 home runs and 114 RBIs, if you project across 600 plate appearances.
"You hate to ever sound surprised or anything," Francona said, "but he's been a pleasure in every aspect. I had already heard so many good things about him, but I would say he's probably exceeded it just by the way he's carried himself."
Napoli's teammates offer similar reviews.
"His presence alone is huge," Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin said. "He wants to win. Whatever it takes to win. I love being around him. I know all the other guys love being around him. He's just kind of brought that veteran leadership to us that we've kind of needed. He's a guy that wants to win and you can tell that. You can just kind of see it in his eyes."
And, Napoli wants to bring the boom.
In the first inning, Lindor doubled to right field and watched Napoli strike out to end the inning. In the third, Lindor doubled to right again and saw Napoli go down swinging. In the sixth inning, memories of those whiffs were swiftly erased when Napoli drove a pitch from Kansas City's Ian Kennedy out to left field.
The blast ignited a four-run rally in the inning and helped Cleveland pull away with the win.
"Why would I doubt a guy like that?" Lindor said. "Every day, it's got to be someone different and Napoli just happens to be a guy that comes out every day and he lives in those moments. He's a great hitter, clutch hitter, and he's a professional."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.