Napoli wants to catch 100 games for Texas Rangers this year

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Mike Napoli isn't shy to admit that catching is arguably the most draining position in baseball.

Catchers get hit with foul balls, have to block pitches in the dirt, understand the mindset of the pitchers to call the game and squat into the catching position countless times throughout the game.

"Catching is a grind, it definitely drains on you," Napoli said. "But you know what? I am up for the challenge."

There's no doubt about that.

Napoli emerged as the No. 1 catcher late last season, and put together a memorable postseason run in which he had a .328 batting average playing all 17 postseason games, including 15 starts at catcher.

Napoli would like to catch as many games as possible this season, but knows that manager Ron Washington will split the catching duties between Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba to keep them both as fresh as possible.

Napoli has never caught 100 games in a major league season, with his most being 84 in 2009. He is quick to point out, though, that he had more than 100 starts at catcher during his 2005 season at Double A Arkansas.

"I did it in Arkansas before where it's hot and humid, but I know that was a long time ago," Napoli said. "I feel like if I can keep myself in shape, stay in the weight room and take care of my body, there's no reason I can't catch 100 games."

The last Rangers catcher to reach the 100-game benchmark was Gerald Laird in 2007. Ivan Rodriguez caught 100 or more games eight times as the Rangers catcher.

While Napoli would like to get back to catching at least 100 games a season, he isn't overly concerned with it. After all, Torrealba caught 95 games for the Rangers last season and is expected to receive his fair share of starts.

"I'm not going to sit here and complain that I need to catch a certain amount," Napoli said. "We are trying to win a division, and we've got two guys who can get it done behind there. I think it worked out well last year."

Napoli started 57 games at catcher last season, along with 27 at first base and 18 at designated hitter. The break from catching helped keep Napoli fresh, too, and his health has been a concern all off-season.

Napoli sprained his left ankle severely during Game 6 of the World Series, and rehabbed it all winter. Just when his ankle began to feel better early in spring training, Napoli came down with left groin soreness on March 10. He returned to the lineup on Friday as designated hitter, going 1 for 4 with a single.

Napoli is expected to be the starting catcher on Sunday, and he could be trying a new squatting position behind the plate. Napoli has experienced groin soreness every year during spring training because he squats awkwardly, bringing his knees together with his foot inverted.

To avoid the injury in the future, Napoli is working on a more traditional stance, keeping his foot straighter. It's not certain he will make the permanent change.

One thing that hasn't changed is his desire to play, and catch, as often as possible.

"Of course I want to be out there," Napoli said. "That's why I was sore with my groin and trying to push through it. I just thought it was sore. I want to be in there all the time."

Drew Davison


Twitter: @drewdavison

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