07/21/12 9:14 PM ET
Napoli a persistent thorn in side of former team
Rangers catcher batting .400 with eight homers vs. Angels; Torrealba in on act
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
The big man from Hollywood -- Hollywood, Fla., that is -- just won't let up on his old buddies, the Angels. With matching homers to right-center and left-center as the Rangers' designated hitter, he continued to inflict damage on former manager Mike Scioscia's pitching staff during Saturday's 9-2 Angel Stadium drubbing that returned Texas' six-game American League West lead.
"To come here and do well," said Napoli, hitting .451 in his old park as a Ranger, "it definitely feels good inside. Every player has a place they go to where they hit well against a team. I happen to be hitting well here. I like playing here. I played here five years, and I'm comfortable playing here."
Indeed. Napoli owns 56 career homers in 824 career at-bats at Angel Stadium, his 14.7 ratio the best in stadium history.
Since departing Southern California after the 2010 season in the Vernon Wells swap and landing in Texas courtesy of the Blue Jays, Napoli has been an Angels abuser without equal.
He's batting an even .400 in 85 at-bats against his original organization, unloading eight homers with 14 RBIs while scoring 21 runs.
Yorvit Torrealba -- back with the club after witnessing the birth of daughter Ashley Valentina by his wife, Millie, in Miami -- joined the Lone Star State home run party along with Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler.
Napoli and Torrealba hastened Angels starter Ervin Santana's demise by going back to back leading off the second inning.
"It was a huge day," Torrealba said. "I'm really happy and really excited. When I hit that home run, I said, 'That's for the baby.' We won, that's the main thing. But to have a good game, I couldn't ask for anything more."
Napoli's performance since the trade clearly suggests he acquires a slightly sharper edge when he sees Angels red.
Napoli was dealing with right knee pain and struggling with the bat coming into the series, having produced just two hits in his previous 22 at-bats. But he had three hits on Friday night, facing ace Jered Weaver, and the power arrived less than 24 hours later with his game-changing blows against Santana and reliever David Carpenter.
"They're tough," Napoli said. "I go in against them knowing I have to be extra competitive. It's nice that you can have a big day against your old team.
"It's a good feeling that everything was right with my swing. I'm close to where I want to be. I want to be consistent, repeat this. It's the right path I'm on.
"Catching all those guys, I have an idea what they like to do. They're going to attack me and find what my weaknesses are. It definitely helps knowing them, but they watched other pitchers get me out. I can see that being an advantage for them."
Offense has been unreliable from the Rangers' catchers, who were ninth in the AL in average (.234) and slugging (.369) coming into Saturday's matinee after they'd led the AL a year ago hitting .299 and slugging .500.
The lion's share of those 2011 numbers came from Napoli, whose torrid second half carried into the postseason. He batted a team-high .328 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 17 games, helping drive Texas to within one Game 6 out of a World Series championship before the Cardinals prevailed in Game 7.
Torrealba also had a solid season, hitting .273. He made all the right calls on Saturday for Yu Darvish, who overpowered the Angels with 11 strikeouts across seven dominant innings.
The Rangers figured to be smarting after the Angels made all the noise on Friday night, and they came out smoking against Santana. The reeling right-hander couldn't make it through the second inning following blasts by Napoli, Torrealba and Beltre.
Napoli smoked a first-pitch fastball to right-center -- "always a good sign for me," he said. Two pitches later, Torrealba went deep to center. Doubles by Craig Gentry and Kinsler had produced another run as the Rangers continue to attack early in counts.
"We were aggressive in our favor," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We needed that."
Napoli, at 30, is looking at his first turn at free agency if he doesn't come to an agreement with the Rangers on an extension.
His reputation as a clutch hitter with major power was made last October. He also has upgraded his image defensively in Texas while guiding a multi-faceted pitching staff.
Torrealba rejoined the club on Friday night, having made the long journey from Miami via Dallas after missing four days on paternity leave.
The Venezuelan had been 1-for-18 before taking leave. His homer was his first at Angel Stadium.
"It's good to be back, obviously," Torrealba said. "But I still wish I was with my daughter. But I'm here and they played me, so it was nice to get back out there. I had a good offensive day, but the main thing was to focus on my pitcher and call a good game."
Nobody was happier to see Torrealba back behind the plate than Napoli, who has been recovering from a bruised quad in his right leg for a week -- the result of a slide in Seattle.
"It's good to get a break," Napoli said, grinning. "I'm feeling better, but it's still a little sore."
Catchers are never 100 percent physically. This time of the year, they're happy if they can get even close.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.