CINCINNATI -- As he alights in the land of Johnny Bench, arguably the best ever at his trade, Mike Napoli is swinging a hot bat while continuing to polish his defensive skills, affirming the faith and trust Angels manager Mike Scioscia has in his second-year receiver. Napoli is 9-for-18 during a five-game hitting streak, lifting his average to .266 coming into a three-game Interleague series with the Reds starting on Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park. It's been a long climb for Napoli, who has six homers in the past 21 games, hitting safely in 20 of his past 25 games. His run of 10 consecutive games scoring a run is the most by a catcher since Johnny Romano of the Chicago White Sox in 1961.
"The game is fun now," Napoli said. "I'm starting to play better, and the team is winning. The whole clubhouse is alive. We can't wait to get on the field and play." April was another story altogether. Overstriding, trying to do too much, Napoli batted .192 with one homer and two RBIs in 52 at-bats. On the heels of a .164 second half as a rookie, there were concerns that his superb first two months last season -- he was batting .286 before the All-Star break -- were a mirage. Scioscia steadfastly stuck with him, praising Napoli's defense as first-rate in spite of his offensive struggles. And the 25-year-old Floridian has justified the former catcher's trust, hitting .273 in May and now .426 in June -- with power and an aggressive baserunning spirit that has him right in step with the roadrunners in red. It was hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, during his early struggles, who recommended an adjustment in Napoli's stance, altering the positioning of his hands. Maintenance is ongoing for teacher and pupil. "You can have a big night at the plate, but if you don't get your team a win, you can't enjoy that," Napoli said. "You have to separate your defense from your offense and understand that the most important part of your job is handling my defense and calling the game, helping our pitchers get a win." Napoli was behind the plate on Tuesday night in spite of Jose Molina's superior numbers with starter Kelvim Escobar. Scioscia wants all of his pitchers comfortable with both receivers and doesn't think there's a large enough sample to draw from yet. A 17th-round pick in 2000 out of Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, Fla., Napoli served his apprenticeship, rising steadily through the ranks, before catching Scioscia's eye in 2005 during Spring Training in the big-league camp for the first time. That hastened his climb to the big time. Izturis close: Maicer Izturis is expected to rejoin the Angels on Friday, Scioscia said, assuming the versatile infielder has no setbacks at Triple-A Salt Lake with the right hamstring that twice has put him on the disabled list this season. "He's playing well, running better," Scioscia said. "Right now he has the flu, though. He'll likely join us on Friday [in Los Angeles against the Dodgers]." Through Monday, Izturis was batting .353 in 17 at-bats at Salt Lake. He was a valuable contributor at third base over the first month with Chone Figgins sidelined, batting .245 with only one error in 28 games. Kotchman returns: Casey Kotchman, drilled in the right elbow by a pitch in St. Louis by Braden Looper, had enough mobility in the arm to return to the lineup on Tuesday night after missing Sunday's game. "I couldn't extend the arm for two days," he said. "I lost feeling down to my mind after I got hit [on Saturday night], which is why I had to come out of the game." Kotchman has been hit four times by pitches, an unusually high number for a hitter who doesn't crowd the plate and lean into pitches, using the whole field to drive balls to gaps. Another of the club's hot hitters, Kotchman is batting .391 with a .739 slugging percentage in eight June games after batting .363 in May with a .575 slugging mark.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.