Mike Napoli is back! Maybe. At the very least, he and Ian Kinsler snapped month-long home run droughts, and greatly contributed the the final game in the Ranger sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays. It wasn’t all positives out of the Rangers camp, who are looking at another unpleasant injury situation. Here are some notes from the game:
Yu Darvish did not pitch very well today. In the 5 innings he pitched, he allowed 7 hits, 3 walks, and only struck out 3, contributing to three runs. That line is not only uncharacteristic of him so far this season, it is an indication that he was having trouble overwhelming hitters with the same aplomb he usually demonstrates. After his exit, we learned that he is suffering from a stiff back, an injury that has been bothering him since his last start in Seattle. Thanks to the pre-season accumulation of starting pitching, the Rangers are capable of slotting Alexi Ogando right alongside Scott Feldman to replace Yu Darvish and Neftali Feliz, respectively. However, one wonders if now might not be the time to start making Roy Oswalt an offer which he doesn’t reject out of hand. He is a bit of a gamble, but he has the talent to succeed at the highest level. Perhaps his long break from the majors will have left him rejuvenated. I don’t really know; all I know is I really want Ogando to stay in the bullpen, where he has been arguably the league’s best reliever this season.
The Ranger hitters were the real stars last night, absolutely devastating Kyle Drabek by putting up 9 runs in 3 innings, and piling on three more on his replacement, just to be sure. The Rangers once again demonstrated their capacity for the “big inning” – this time it was the second, where they put up 7 runs. The inning started rather gently, with Michael Young, David Murphy, and Mike Napoli drawing walks to load the bases. Next, though, Mitch Moreland also drew a walk, scoring Young. Its rare to see the Rangers demonstrate such patience, and a big part of that was undoubtedly the fact that Drabek appeared to be completely derailed. After that, the bats came alive, with Ian Kinsler knocking in two with a double, Andrus following that up with a huge double that was nearly a home run, and then Beltre brought him home with a big blast.
Most importantly, though, were the signs of Mike Napoli breaking his long offensive cold streak. He looked calm and collected at the plate, worked counts and got results: a walk, a base hit, and a home run. Napoli has the potential to carry this team offensively, but so far this season strikeouts have been his undoing, going from around 20% Ks in 2011 to 32.5% in 2012. Perhaps the Napoli chants and the general raising of expectations has caused him to start pressing at the plate more. Alternatively, he might have lost some of the “I’ll show you” fire he had, where he seemed determine to prove to the Angels and to the league that he wasn’t in any way equivalent to Vernon Wells.
All in all, it was a terrific series, with some good signs for the future, and some dark clouds gathering as well. Its important that the Rangers keep up the good work – the Angels appear to be gathering some steam as well, having completed a sweep of their own against the Seattle Mariners. The main driver of their success has been a renewed confidence in their bullpen, driven by the acquisition of Ernesto Frieri, and the re-emergence of Scott Downs. The Angels will be a tenacious opponent, but the next few days should be a good time to build some distance, with the Rangers facing the Mariners, and the Angels hosting the New York Yankees.