Mike Napoli's average has dipped below .200 to .199 this season. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Red Sox pregame notes: Mike Napoli's struggles 'surprising'; No decision made on Joe Kelly

Ryan Hannable
June 24, 2015 - 1:18 pm

It hasn't been the contract year many expected from Mike Napoli. With an 0-for-4, four strikeout performance Tuesday, Napoli's average has dipped down below .200 to .199 and in the month of June he's batting .179 with 23 strikeouts and four walks in 72 plate appearances. With the type of spring Napoli had, hitting six home runs and having sleep apnea surgery in the offseason, the issues he's had have come as a bit of a surprise. "I think we're all a little surprised," manager John Farrell said. "That's not to say that Mike's not working at it because he is. Coming off the spring, he looked free, he was getting some balls in the inside part of the plate where he was getting ahead out to the pull side and was driving the ball into right center field, which is where he true power is when you see him going well. With the exception of a smaller stint of time that's really when he's been in that approach. "This is surprising. There's going to be swing and miss, we know that with Mike. That's part of his make up as a player, as a performer, with the power you're going to get. You could also look to four years ago, there was a year similar to what is unfolding right now and that's been a lower average, but a high number of home runs. We're certainly not turning away from Mike, we're here to help him get through it." In his first two seasons in Boston, Napoli hit .259 and .248 respectively. Farrell doesn't see a change in his swing, more so he's fouling off pitches he should be hitting. "No. There's a big swing there, which again goes hand and hand with the power that you're going to get from him," he said. "I thought last year there was a little bit more of a pronounced two-strike approach where he shortened up and not to say we're always looking to sacrifice an at-bat, but Mike's here to drive the baseball and he's certainly capable of that. But, to say that there is a fundamental change where the bat head is in and out of the strike zone quicker than what we've seen in the past, I certainly don't see that. Like I said, there's a pitch in the at-bat right now that he's fouling off and then after that they are kind of forcing him to chase on the periphery." Napoli hasn't played as solid of a first base as in the past this year, which could be a product of his issues at the plate. "There's been games where the confidence goes to both sides," Farrell said "I think Mike has handled the position. Has he been cleaner defensively in the past? Probably. But still, he give us plenty of range and the ability to make all the plays at first." Starter Joe Kelly struggled once again Tuesday night, allowing five runs in 3 2/3 innings. The Red Sox have lost eight of his last 10 starts and six of the last seven. With his ERA now at 5.67, Kelly has the third-highest ERA in the AL with a minimum of 60 innings pitched. It seems the decision on whether or not he will make his next turn in the rotation is up for debate. "Haven't made a decision on the next turn though the rotation," Farrell said. "The primary goal is we've got to get Joe to deliver the ball more consistently. For a guy that's that athletic, you would think his athleticism would allow him to repeat a deliver to command a baseball better. There's no questioning that the walks are up a tick on a per nine innings as are the hits so all that suggests that commanding the strike zone is inconsistent. And we're working to get that ironed out more. Kelly has been on record saying how comfortable he was in St. Louis with Yadier Molina catching him and calling the game. Some have said part of his issues this season could be because of the number of young and inexperienced catchers the Red Sox have. Farrell doesn't see it that way. "I wouldn't put it all on who's behind the plate," he said. "There's a game plan that's laid out that's got contributions by all involved with that. I would point to the two months which he pitched here last year might have been his best stretch of starting in his major league career. So he's shown the ability to do that in the American League, he's shown the ability to do that here in Boston. So to say that because of [Ryan Hanigan's] injury or whether it's been [Blake Swihart] or whether it's been Sandy [Leon] behind the plate, I wouldn't put it on that. It's a combination and there's communication that goes on to get the most out of everyone."