KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Red Sox have the most productive lineup in baseball. But on Thursday, manager John Farrell decided to make an adjustment.
Mike Napoli, the No. 5 hitter for the bulk of the season, was dropped down a spot against the Kansas City Royals and could stay there, especially against righthanded pitchers with good velocity.
Napoli is hitting .250 with 14 home runs and 64 RBIs. His on-base percentage of .340 is in line with what the Red Sox expected. But Napoli’s .443 slugging percentage is the lowest of his career.
He also is hitting .211 with runners in scoring position and has struck out 147 times in 384 at-bats.
In an effort to get cleanup hitter David Ortiz more protection, Farrell is willing to use another lefthanded hitter hitting fifth. Stephen Drew would be a candidate.
Farrell will base that part of the order on the opposing starting pitcher.
“It’ll be matchups and likely against some righthanded starters we’ll probably put another lefthander behind David,” he said. “Mike is well aware of that. Against some lefties, Mike could find himself in the 5-hole as well.
“To Mike’s credit, it’s about whatever we have to do to win tonight.”
Napoli has hit better in the second half of the season during his career. But he hit .200 with a .741 OPS in his first 17 games after the All-Star break. Napoli is hitless in his last 15 at-bats and has left 23 runners on base.
On Wednesday afternoon, Napoli worked with hitting coaches Greg Colbrunn and Victor Rodriguez on his swing, specifically cutting it down in the interest of making more consistent contact. Then he met with Farrell.
“We talked about a couple of different things that we might look to do with the lineup,” Farrell said. ‘He’s all on board with all of it.”
Napoli was not in the starting lineup against Houston Wednesday but came into the game in the eighth inning. With the Sox down a run, he popped up to the first baseman.
“It’s been a tough time,” Napoli said. “Physically, it’s not a problem. I’m fine; my hip is fine. It’s all timing for me.”
In some cases, changing a player’s spot in the order leads to better production.
“There’s two schools of thought on that,” Farrell said. “Some people think where a guy hits in the lineup, he hits to that spot and there’s a different mentality that’s associated with a spot in the lineup.
“There are other guys [who say], ‘Put me anywhere, I’ll go up and do my normal thing.'
"Mike and I both recognize he’s going through a stretch here where he’s been grinding. Hopefully just moving him down a slot gives him a little breather.
"We’ve just stayed consistent and ride the streaks with him. I think that’s where players gain some comfort and gain some confidence because they’re trusted despite recent happenings.
"In this situation — and again we’re talking about one slot in the order; he’s not going to the 9-hole — we’re just looking for a different combination in the middle.”