FORT MYERS, Fla. — Mike Napoli was an All-Star catcher for the Texas Rangers in 2012 and worked with a pitching staff that included Alexi Ogando and Robbie Ross Jr., now his teammates with the Red Sox.
Napoli approved of the additions when the Sox signed Ogando as a free agent and traded for Ross to supplement their bullpen. Having caught both, he knew what they were capable of.
The key, he said, is how they’re used.
The Rangers never figured that out. Ross was an effective reliever for two seasons before Texas moved him into the rotation in 2014. After nine starts he was moved back to the bullpen, and his struggles continued. The Sox obtained him in January for righthander Anthony Ranaudo.
Ogando went through much wilder swings. He was a shutdown reliever as a rookie in 2010, went to the rotation in 2011, then went back to the bullpen a year later. Then came another switch to the rotation in 2013.
Ogando had been limited by arm injuries the last two seasons and was signed for $1.5 million plus incentives.
“I was glad we got them. I know what they can do and they can help us,” Napoli said on Thursday. “For both of those guys, the changing back and forth was hard on them. It’s hard to bring that same stuff in the pen to being a starter for six innings. They should be relievers because it’s less taxing on their arms.”
Napoli said both pitchers were fun to catch.
“Ogando is fastball and slider with an occasional changeup. You never want to get beat with that so we never really used it. Ogando is good at locating with his fastball, even at 96 [miles per hour] and 97,” he said.
“I’ve faced him, too. It’s tough to pick up. The ball is small out of his hand. He short-arms the ball a little bit. The angle is down and he stays down and away to a righthander. He could nail that spot whenever he wanted to.
“I think he can be a great reliever again. If he can tolerate it, he’s a great pickup for us.”
As for Ross, Napoli saw a lefty with the kind of stuff that can end an inning quickly.
“He has a natural cut to his fastball. He throws a little slider and changeup occasionally. He was aggressive with the fastball. He was tough on righties. I remember him breaking bats all the time against righties. The action on his fastball is very late,” Napoli said.
“He’s not a matchup guy. He can pitch a whole inning. I thought sometimes lefties had a better chance against him because the ball would stay away.”
Ross, 25, was surprised by the trade. The former second-round pick thought he was in Texas’s plans despite a rocky 2014 season (3-6, 6.20 ERA). He made 27 appearances, including 12 starts.
“I was excited for the opportunity to get over here and try to win the World Series. [The Red Sox] have had a big history of winning and I’m excited to be a part of that,” he said. “But it came out of the blue.”
Ross lobbied for the chance to start last season. He had a 2.45 ERA through his first five outings but was 0-3 with an 8.24 ERA in the four starts that followed.
“It was rough. It was one of those years. We were losing so many games. I wasn’t pitching well enough to stay in the rotation,” Ross said. “We needed to win and we couldn’t win during that time. I would have liked to have been in a spot where I would have liked to get to 25 starts. The situation was tough.”
Ross said coming to a team with some former teammates — Koji Uehara also is a former Ranger — made the transition easier.
“It was good walking in here and feel like I knew some people. I was able to ask some questions about what spring training is like here,” he said.
Ross still hopes to get a chance to start at some point. The Sox see him as reliever exclusively and in competition to become the second lefthander in the bullpen behind Craig Breslow. Other candidates include Tommy Layne and Dana Eveland.
Ross has two minor league options remaining and that could be a factor when the Red Sox make their roster for Opening Day.
“Obviously, right now, they have me in relief here. That’s what they told me and that’s what I’m looking forward to right now. I’m honed in on that,” Ross said. “I’m good with that right now, for sure. I’m coming off a year that wasn’t the greatest. It was a building year, I guess you could say. Now I need to go out there and do what I can to help this team.”
Ross had a 2.62 ERA and 1.26 WHIP as a reliever from 2012-13. Ogando has a career 3.25 ERA as a reliever with a 1.22 WHIP.
Red Sox manager John Farrell has been impressed with Ogando through the early portion of camp. He is looking for clean mechanics, not velocity.
“Arm speed and extension in his delivery. If there’s normal extension and they’re not cutting their arm stroke off, then they’re free physically and nothing is holding them back,” Farrell said.