Angels slot Napoli in at designated hitter
Slugger used as DH for first time since Minor League days
NEW YORK -- Mike Napoli was searching his memory. He'd been asked if he recalled the last time he served as a designated hitter, a role designated for him by manager Mike Scioscia on Friday night at Yankee Stadium against Yankees southpaw Andy Pettitte.
"In a game that counted?" Napoli finally replied, realizing the question had to exclude Cactus League play, where he'd served as the DH on a number of occasions. "It was in the Minor Leagues ... probably Double-A [at Arkansas].
"I'm kind of excited about it. It's going to be a little less stressful."
The stress-related catching duties would belong to Jeff Mathis, Napoli's best buddy. They've shared the job the past two seasons, catching an almost identical number of games, with Napoli spending more time on the disabled list than he cares to recall with shoulder, shin and hamstring issues.
"The last time Jeff and I were in the same lineup, I'd probably have to go back to [Class A] Rancho [Cucamonga] or Cedar Rapids," Napoli said. "Other than in Spring Training [in Arizona], of course."
Mathis has had more success over the years catching Jered Weaver, the Angels' Friday night starter, than Napoli. Mathis was behind the plate on Sunday in Anaheim when Weaver pitched seven scoreless three-hit innings in a shutout of Seattle.
What's more, Napoli is 3-for-5 with a double in his career against Pettitte, one of the game's most respected lefties, and he homered in the series opener, driving an A.J. Burnett fastball over the wall in right for his fourth blast in 46 at-bats. No catcher in Major League history has homered with the career frequency of Napoli, with 50 in 760 at-bats.
"It's something new," Napoli said, grinning. "One good thing is there's a batting cage near the dugout, so I can go take some swings off the tee between innings. You know me -- I love to hit."
In another lineup adjustment, Scioscia gave Robb Quinlan -- a .417 hitter in 12 at-bats against Pettitte -- the nod at first base after Kendry Morales was hitless with three strikeouts in the series opener.
Asked about Napoli in the DH role and batting fifth behind Torii Hunter, Scioscia indicated that there is no plan to make it a regular feature but held the door open that this might not be a one-time deal.
"A couple of things," Scioscia said when asked about his thinking. "Mike is really comfortable in the batter's box, and we need Jeff to stay in and do what he can behind the plate.
"It's a chance, short-term, to keep Mike in the lineup and Jeff behind the plate. If it's a look we're going to for a while, we'd need a third catcher. It's something we'll look at occasionally moving forward."
The problem with carrying a third catcher -- either Bobby Wilson or Ryan Budde, both with Triple-A Salt Lake -- is that the dearth of healthy pitchers has created a need to carry seven relief pitchers.
It's unlikely, Scioscia said, that the Angels will scale back from 12 pitchers until John Lackey and Ervin Santana are back in the rotation -- hopefully in several weeks in both cases -- and able to get deep enough in games to avoid taxing the bullpen.
Scioscia said Napoli would be back behind the plate on Saturday when Matt Palmer takes on Yankees lefty CC Sabathia.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.