ARLINGTON -- While waiting patiently for catcher Mike Napoli to return to his offensive form of early 2006, when he arrived in Anaheim with a bang, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has marveled at his protégé's ability to separate his defense from his offensive frustrations. "Behind the plate, he gets better and better," said Scioscia, who studies catching with the appreciation of an art student on a tour of Italy. "That's a great sign he doesn't take his offensive struggles behind the plate. When he catches, our team has a terrific record. Pitchers have responded well to him." The downside is that Napoli hasn't responded consistently well to opposing pitchers since hitting .327 and .281 in his first two Major League months with eight homers in 113 at-bats.
He plunged to .164 after the All-Star break last year, with five homers in 128 at-bats, and carried a .216 average into Monday's series finale with Texas at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. On the positive side, Napoli had a modest four-game hitting streak, and he homered to the opposite field -- his second of the season -- and singled sharply to left on Sunday. "It's a real good sign for me," he said, asked about the significance of driving a ball into the seats in right-center field against right-hander Mike Wood. "Getting hits is a good sign, making good contact." Napoli's desire to crush balls sometimes ties him in knots offensively, which is why it's so important for him to focus on driving the ball the other way and not trying to yank everything into the left-field seats. "There's always frustration that might creep into a guy's psyche because he's struggling," Scioscia said. "He's managed it very well. What he did [Sunday] is obviously a good start. "Offensively, there's still tremendous upside there. It's frankly something our club needs. Right now, we're not deep enough to absorb guys in prolonged downturns. "Mike needs to balance things out. He's got a big swing, and there are going to be strikeouts in his game. He has terrific power and a terrific eye. He's going to draw walks, and he runs the bases well. "As a catcher, you want to make defense your priority. Right now, we're not deep enough to absorb guys in prolonged downturns. Mike has pride and wants to contribute." Waiting on Santana: Another performer who excelled last year and is having problems now is starting pitcher Ervin Santana, who has not built on his 16-8 record in 2006. He's 2-5 with a 5.51 ERA in eight starts, and his road woes (0-4, 7.86) are baffling. After Santana yielded three homers and six runs (five earned) in six innings on Sunday, pitching coach Mike Butcher said there's nothing wrong with his stuff, adding that "he's going to have to work through it." "I can't pinpoint anything," Butcher said. "You start missing spots, you're going to get hit. That's with any pitcher. I like the way he threw the ball the last two innings. He was a lot more aggressive and attacked the zone." Scioscia said Santana "has to go harder, more aggressive, to be effective early in a game to establish his style of pitching. It's all about location, all about command." Napoli said Santana "missed by inches" a few times and "didn't have any luck," adding that he sees nothing wrong with the young right-hander's stuff or approach. Kendrick set to return: Second baseman Howard Kendrick plans to test his left hand, injured April 17 in Oakland, with Triple-A Salt Lake on Tuesday. Kendrick was hitting .327 in 14 games when he suffered a non-displaced fracture of the left middle finger when he was hit by a Chad Gaudin pitch. Erick Aybar (.261) has filled in admirably in Kendrick's absence, a natural shortstop adapting to a new position. Scioscia expects Kendrick to require a minimum of five or six games in his rehab. "Hopefully, he's not going to have any setbacks and he'll show up on the next road trip" starting May 22 in Detroit, the manager said. Scioscia airs case: Following his second ejection of the year on Sunday in protest of pitcher Hector Carrasco's ejection for dropping a 78-mph curveball on the helmet of Ian Kinsler, Scioscia was on the phone with Bob Watson, MLB vice president of on-field operations. "Bob's good at reviewing stuff and getting back to you with an understanding - and that's all we're looking for," Scioscia said. "I don't think there's anyone in the world besides [umpire Alfonso Marquez] who thought there was intent [to harm Kinsler]. Any time you can have dialogue, it's going to get you closer to common sense [rulings]." Up next: Coming off a complete game shutout of Cleveland, Kelvim Escobar (4-1, 2.21 ERA) is set to face Seattle phenom Felix Hernandez (2-1, 1.56) in the opener of a three-game series at Safeco Field on Tuesday night at 7:05 p.m. PT.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.