June 1, 2012

Texas Rangers' Napoli confident he'll regain form

The catcher has improved on taking walks, getting ahead in counts.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Panic has never set in for Mike Napoli, who has struggled for the better part of the first two months of the season, and there's good reason for him to remain calm.

Napoli was hitting .225 on June 1 a year ago, and had been as low as .183 earlier that week. So, the .238 average he carried into the opener of a three-game series against Anaheim on Friday could be considered progress.

"I think he's ahead of the game," hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh said.

Napoli wouldn't go that far, but the Texas Rangers' catcher is feeling better of late when at the plate. He had a .333 average his past four games, but wasn't trumpeting that as a sign that all is well.

It's not, but it is progress as Napoli tries to recapture the stroke that helped him rally to a .320 average last season.

"I've got to keep building on that and keep grinding," Napoli said. "I've felt better, but I'm not all the way back to where I want to be. I hope it's better than where I've been."

Maybe this series at Angel Stadium will help. Napoli hit in eight of nine games here last year and finished 14 for 37 (.378) with six home runs.

He had a walk and an RBI single through four innings Friday in a game that hadn't been decided at press time. Napoli spent the first five seasons of his career with the Angels.

"It's really not [a hitter's park], but I like to hit here," he said. "Because I played here for a long time I'm comfortable."

But he hasn't been comfortable in any batter's box much of the season. Aside from an April stretch in which he hit homers in five straight games, Napoli has struggled with his timing.

He's a feel hitter and a power hitter, said Coolbaugh, and needs to have his timing down to see his average go up. A key indicator of that is taking walks and getting ahead in the count, and Napoli has been better of late.

"For me that's a good sign," Coolbaugh said. "He's a feel guy, and the biggest thing is timing. If he's late on his timing he's not able to recognize pitches. As of late he's been able to take advantage of some counts."

Napoli recognizes that he still has a long way to go to match his 2011 season, which included career-highs in average, homers (30), RBIs (75), slugging percentage (.631) and on-base percentage (.414).

He's comforted by his ability to overcome a lousy first three months last season, which included hitting .179 in June, and other inconsistent streaks in his career.

The at-bat that turns everything in the other direction could happen at any time. Maybe it was Monday, when he hit a three-run homer to beat Seattle. Maybe it'll come this weekend against his former team.

Napoli is confident that he won't be stuck at .238 all season.

"To tell you the truth, I'm happy with what I've been doing considering how I've felt," said Napoli, who entered Friday with nine homers and 25 RBIs. "Some of the ups and downs I've had, there've been periods where I've felt like I've been able to contribute.

"There was never a panic. There was some frustration, because you want to be able to compete at a top level all the time. I've been through these before. I always feel like it's just one at-bat away from when I get rolling again."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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