The arrival of Bobby Wilson from Triple-A Salt Lake means the Angels can now have Mike Napoli’s lethal bat in the lineup every day if they choose to do so.
It seems like a slam dunk, given how Napoli has produced in the designated hitter role: 10 for 17, bullets and bombs flying everywhere.
“I like the whole DH thing,” Napoli said before Tuesday night’s game against the Red Sox at Angel Stadium. “I also like catching, too.”
When Napoli catches, however, it means their best receiver — Jeff Mathis — is not in the lineup. Napoli is a big Mathis fan, being his roomie and best buddy, and vice versa. In their perfect world, they’re both in the lineup on a regular basis. And the only way that can happen is for Napoli to DH or play first base, something that could happen down the road.
Steady Robb Quinlan is Kendry Morales’ backup at first now. Quinlan is eligible for free agency after the season, and he’s expected to pursue greener pastures — and more at-bats — elsewhere. That means there could be at-bats available for Napoli at first, where he has played and played well according to teammates, in the Minor Leagues.
The whole point is to keep Napoli healthy and in the lineup. He has missed chunks of the past two seasons with injuries, playing a total of 153 games in 2007 and 2008. That’s about as many as he should play in one season, something he can do as a DH/first baseman.
It’s remarkable, given his frequent absences with shoulder, hamstring and ankle injuries, that Napoli has the highest home-run ratio for a catcher in MLB history — 51 bombs in 790 at-bats.
Imagine what he could do without the wear and tear of catching, with his legs, serving as his foundation, fresh in the late innings rather than worn down.
Napoli is a good athlete, but Mathis, a high school sensation as a quarterback in Marianna, Fla., is an extraordinary athlete. He makes plays few catchers can even consider, notably on dribblers and bunts near home plate. His hands and feet are amazingly quick, and pitchers rave about his pitch selection.
“It’s incredible, the things Jeff can do back there,” Napoli said.
Angels pitchers, overall, have fared better with Mathis. His catching ERA is about a half-run lower per game than Napoli.
Wilson, with a strong arm and a presence behind the plate, also is a quality receiver — and he can hit, using the whole field.
Wilson provides protection in the late innings, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he wouldn’t hesitate to use the new guy.
All of this is temporary, it needs to be pointed out. When Vladimir Guerrero returns from his torn right pectoral muscle, presumably sometime next month, he’ll usurp the DH role until he can return to right field. But Napoli can savor the opportunity now.
“It’s a lot less stressful, DHing, than catching,” Napoli said. “You can think about hitting all the time. I watch the game — I’m still into the game — but I can go down in the video room and check out the pitcher between at-bats and do my routine I’ve developed to stay loose.”
He certainly sounds like a guy who thoroughly enjoys this role.