Napoli dropped to sixth in lineup

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Mike Napoli, who began the season batting cleanup in David Ortiz's absence and has been hitting fifth ever since, returned to the lineup Thursday after a one night's absence slotted in the sixth hole of the Red Sox lineup against Kansas City left-hander Bruce Chen.

The batting order already was skewed because Ortiz was given his first night off since July 5, after making 28 straight starts. Jonny Gomes hit cleanup and Stephen Drew was in the No. 5 hole. Drew, who is batting .468 (13-for-28) in his past eight games entering Thursday and hit a game-deciding three-run home run in the ninth inning in Houston on Wednesday, was a logical choice to be moved up, while Gomes went 4-for-9 with two home runs in the Houston series.

Farrell said he told Napoli that even when Ortiz returns to the lineup, he intends to use a left-handed bat in the five spot against right-handed pitchers for the foreseeable future, with Napoli hitting sixth. Napoli will still hit fifth at times against lefties, Farrell said.

"Mike and I both recognize he's been going through a stretch where he's been grinding," Farrell said. "Just moving him out a slot gives him a little breather."

Napoli singled in the second inning of Thursday's 5-1 loss to the Royals to break an 0-for-15 skid. He finished 1-for-4, striking out once, fouling out to left and grounding into a game-ending double play.

Napoli went off during a four-game stretch in late July, when he went 7-for-15 with three home runs. In the 12 games since (not including Thursday night), he batted .119 (5-for-42), striking out 19 times in 51 plate appearances in that stretch. With 148 strikeouts, two fewer than league leader Chris Carter of the Astros, Napoli is on pace for 205 strikeouts this season.

After hitting seven home runs in his first 38 games and slugging .537, Napoli had seven home runs in his next 66 games and slugged .383. That slugging percentage ranked last among the 11 Sox players who had had at least 100 plate appearances since May 14. Ortiz (17) and Gomes (8) had more home runs than Napoli in that span.

Napoli has made no secret of the fact that he is a streaky hitter. "We've stayed consistent to ride those streaks with him," Farrell said. "That's when players gain comfort, confidence, because they're trusted."

Before this season, Napoli had started in the cleanup or fifth spot just 68 times in his career, with the vast majority of his starts, 534, coming in the sixth through eighth spots in the order.