ST. PETERSBURG -- At a time of the season when nearly every area of the team is firing on all cylinders, the one thing manager John Farrell is still tinkering with is the alignment of his setup crew, particularly in the eighth inning of close games.
There have been times Farrell has gone to Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow and Brandon Workman. Of the three, Breslow has had the best season. But he is sometimes needed to match up against lefties earlier in the game.
"They'll all be involved," said Farrell. "On a given day, when a certain someone is well-rested, whether that's Breslow, whether that's Junichi, any one of them, we're not hesitant to go to them, as you've seen. And yet we've also taken the approach where if we're in the heart of the order, we might look to match up hitter to hitter. That pretty much covers the spectrum."
If the eighth inning is a little uncertain, the ninth is as stable as it gets. Koji Uehara continues to be unhittable in the closing role. He entered Thursday with a streak of 34 consecutive batters retired, which is believed to be a team record.
Napoli's full incentive package kicks in
ST. PETERSBURG -- The hip condition that wound up reducing Mike Napoli's contract from three years to one year hasn't had the slightest impact on his season. In fact, simply by staying on the active roster on Thursday, Napoli's full incentive package kicked in for the season, meaning he will earn $13 million.
The Red Sox, after diagnosing Napoli with avascular necrosis with an MRI back in December, had wound up giving him just $5 million guaranteed.
However, it has wound up as a win-win situation. Napoli has been on fire of late and the Red Sox are more than happy to pay the extra $8 million for the production and durability.
"It's a good day," Napoli said, "but I've got to let that go and get back on the field and try to keep doing what I'm doing."
Not catching for the first time in Napoli's career has clearly helped. He is on pace to set career highs in games played and plate appearances.
Have a question about the Red Sox?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Red Sox beat reporter Ian Browne for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
"Yeah, I mean, that's my goal every year, to stay on the field," Napoli said. "Sometimes some things happen that you can't control and you get injured, but I think being at first base helped me out a lot with my body and how I felt. I've been confident my whole career. Some unfortunate things happened during my career. This year's been great, and my body still feels good."
Though he had a prolonged slump in July and August, Napoli has gotten red-hot at just the right time for a Boston team that has surged down the stretch.
"I think the one thing we've seen throughout the course of his career is that when we give him some periodic rest, he stays fresh and extremely productive," said manager John Farrell. "His track record shows that September has always been a strong month for him, and that's proven to be the case again."
In 141 career regular-season games in September and October, Napoli boasts a .303 average with 37 homers and 87 RBIs.
If there is a poster child for Boston's grind-it-out approach at the plate, it is Napoli.
"He embodies everything that we value as far as a hitter. I think he's first in all of baseball in pitches seen per plate appearance to total pitches seen, and he cares about what he does on the field," Farrell said. "He's very conscientious. He works his tail off. He's had probably every bit of the year that we would hope when we signed him over the offseason."
Napoli will be a free agent again this winter, but he hopes he's proved enough health-wise to garner a multiyear contract this time around with the Red Sox or somebody else.
"I mean, I hope so," Napoli said. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to go through the whole MRI process and do all that stuff again. But I mean, everything's looked good, and I'm confident that teams aren't going to shy away."
How about staying with Boston?
"Yeah, I'd love to stay here," Napoli said. "I love this group of guys. There's a lot of guys coming back. This is a special group. Bringing back guys like this, we're going to be able to win for a couple years."
Victorino gets night off to stay fresh down stretch
ST. PETERSBURG -- After laying down a sacrifice bunt in the 10th inning on Wednesday that helped lead the Red Sox to a 7-3 victory over the Rays, Shane Victorino went straight to the clubhouse, leading some to speculate that he might be coming out of the game.
Victorino, who has managed nagging injuries all season, did manage to stay in the game. However, manager John Farrell gave him a rest for Thursday's finale of this seven-game road trip.
"Talking to guys here, this turf is very difficult," said Farrell. "It's much more soft. They feel it differently. You have to be conscious of either lower back or hip, but it wasn't his hamstring. I think he just felt a little tightness overall, and the way he ran back, you could see something wasn't 100 percent. Just [a chance] to get him off his feet."
Will Middlebrooks also got the night off, and Xander Bogaerts made his first start since belting a prodigious home run five days ago at Yankee Stadium.
The one benefit the Red Sox have with their commanding lead in the standings is to make sure nobody gets overly taxed down the stretch. Having productive reserves like Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes, Bogaerts and David Ross makes that even easier.
"It starts with good players, and we're able to manage their playing time, because we have depth that we can go to and not have a huge drop-off in capability and performance," said Farrell. "That's the reason why, in September, we're trending up in terms of offensive performance. We've been able to keep guys fresh. In a day and age where the drugs are cleaned up, rest is that much more important, and depth of roster becomes that much more valuable."