ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli had a productive day on Thursday before he stepped to the plate.
Thursday marked Napoli’s 165th day on the roster and that guaranteed him the entire $8 million incentive package built into his contract in January.
Napoli initially agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox in December. The team backed away from that agreement after a physical found Napoli had a degenerative condition in his hip joints.
The sides agreed to a one-year contract worth $5 million with incentives based on time on the active roster or plate appearances. Napoli had already earned $6 million in incentives. Thursday’s game put him at the maximum.
“I was always confident. I never felt anything in my hips,” Napoli said before the Sox played the Tampa Bay Rays. “I just took the necessary steps. I’ve been in the training room a lot, doing all my work, working out.”
The condition in his hips, avascular necrosis, was controlled by medication. According to Napoli, the two MRIs he had during the season showed no progress by the disease.
“The MRIs showed that it’s been under control and stayed exactly the same. It’s what we wanted to happen,” Napoli said. “I think the medicine has something to do with it.”
Thursday’s game was Napoli’s 129th this season, 11 shy of his career best. He has 538 plate appearances, the most of his career.
Napoli has been productive. After going 0 for 4 Thursday, he is hitting .258 with an .829 OPS. He has 36 doubles, 21 home runs, and 87 RBIs.
Napoli also leads the majors with 4.58 pitches per plate appearance. That has helped lead to his high strikeout total — two more Thursday gave him 176 for the season, one shy of the team record.
“I think he’s had an outstanding season when you consider the numbers he’s putting up,” manager John Farrell said. “The one thing that we’ve seen throughout the course of the year is that when we give him some periodic rest, he stays fresh and extremely productive.
“He embodies everything that we value as far as a hitter. He cares about what he does on the field. He’s very conscientious. He works his tail off. He’s had probably every bit of the year we would hope when we signed him.”
Napoli feels that playing first base exclusively and giving up catching has helped him stay in the lineup. He misses the mental challenge of catching, but not the physical grind.
“I think playing first has been good for me,” he said.
Napoli will be a free agent after the season and should command a multiyear deal given his apparent good health and production.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll have to go through the whole MRI process and do all of that stuff again. But everything has looked good and I’m confident that teams aren’t going to shy away,” Napoli said.
“I’d love to stay [with the Red Sox]. I love this group of guys and there’s a lot of guys coming back. This is a special group and bringing back the guys like this, they’re going to be able to win for a couple of years.”
The Sox start a three-game series against the Yankees on Friday at Fenway. Despite injuries to several star players, the Yankees are one of six teams chasing two wild-card playoff spots.
The Sox will have John Lackey on the mound Friday against Hiroki Kuroda. The Sox took three of four from the Yankees last week and are 10-6 against their rivals this season.
“I don’t know that we wrote them off at all,” Farrell said. “As [Alfonso] Soriano’s come to that team, as [Alex] Rodriguez has come back, their offense is strong. We saw that for four games [last weekend]. No lead was seemingly safe.
“I think they’ve done an awesome job to be in the position they’re in given the number of games missed by their regular players. You respect the way they go about their work.”
The Red Sox will pay tribute to Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in a pregame ceremony on Sunday. It will be the final regular-season game at Fenway for the 43-year-old Rivera, who is retiring after the season.
Rivera has appeared in 55 regular-season games at Fenway Park, the most for an opposing reliever in the park’s 102 seasons.
Fans coming to the 8:05 p.m. game should be in their seats by approximately 7:30. A limited number of tickets are still available.
Former Red Sox manager Don Zimmer watched from the stands as the teams took batting practice. Zimmer, 82, is a senior adviser with the Rays. Jonny Gomes, a former Tampa Bay player, sat with Zimmer for a bit. Dustin Pedroia also went over to say hello. Gomes, a baseball history buff, toured the Ted Williams Museum at Tropicana Field and purchased a signed photograph of Williams and Johnny Pesky with American servicemen at Fenway Park during World War II . . . Shane Victorino was out of the lineup. Farrell described him as having “tightness overall” after playing two games on the spongy turf at Tropicana Field.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.