Mike Napoli hit his fourth double of the season on Sunday.

It should have been his second triple.

What does it say when a struggling hitter fails to do everything he can to help his team on offense? Only that it won’t be his team much longer.

Down by seven runs late in a game against the Seattle Mariners, Napoli punched a ball down the left field line just out of the third baseman’s reach, a universal signal for the hitter to take extra bases.

That sure-fire double became a gimme triple when the left fielder misplayed a carom off the stands in foul territory, allowing the ball to dribble all the way into the corner.

All of this played out directly in front of the Angel catcher as he rounded first base and any other player would’ve immediately recognized the situation and taken advantage of the miscue. Instead, Napoli broke into a home run trot on his assumed double.

Why he wasn’t replaced on the spot is anyone’s guess.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia is not one to tolerate his players giving anything less than their absolute all—whether it’s a struggling rookie or veteran masher. Napoli is no rookie, but he’s hardly mashing this season.

In 2010, the typically powerful Napoli has just one home run amid six extra-base hits and is batting a lowly .221 with 24 strikeouts. If there was ever a player to forgive for loafing, he isn’t it.

Napoli’s slow start was initially attributed to his lack of playing time. The former No. 1 backstop lost his starting job to the defensively superior Jeff Mathis at the start of the season.

Mathis got off to a blistering pace, hitting .324 through the Angels’ first 10 games before landing on the disabled list with a broken wrist. 

Following a fairly successful Spring Training, Napoli was vocal about his displeasure over being named the backup to Mathis. Among his complaints, he suggested his defense had greatly improved and he wanted the chance to show it.

With Mathis out, Napoli has now had 20 chances to show it. He still can’t play defense.

Pitches in the dirt routinely skip past his glove, although they are more often credited as wild pitches (of which he’s allowed nine) than passed balls (one). What’s worse, base runners are stealing on him at will.

Coming into this week’s series against the Tampa Bay Rays, Napoli has thrown out only 19 percent of potential base stealers, failing to prevent 22 thefts in 27 attempts. The Rays, meanwhile, rank third in the AL with 29 swiped bags.

Facing the best team in the major leagues will tell a great deal about the Angels’ future in several aspects, but none more than at the catching position.

The window for Napoli to show off his improved abilities is closing fast. If he doesn’t prove himself to be a legit starter before Mathis returns from the DL, he may not even be granted the backup spot for long.

Bobby Wilson is out of options and the Angels will not risk sending him back to the minors when he makes his own return trip from the DL, meaning they would have to make another roster move before activating him.

Ryan Budde has had limited success with the Angels, but his lone start in 2010 resulted in a 8-0 shutout of the Mariners, not to mention his first major league home run. 

And that’s just the current competition. Halos prospect Hank Conger has performed well in Triple-A and could earn his big league wings as early as this summer.

Unless he’s dedicated to being the subject of a mid-season trade, Napoli should be doing everything he can to help his team win. Instead, we’ve seen him lolly gag in the field and whine in the clubhouse. 

The Angels face some tough questions heading into this week. Their starters’ ERA, bullpen ERA, walks and home runs given up, and runs scored per game all rank among the worst in the AL.

Change must come to Anaheim if the team wants to have any hope of competing in 2010. Now, Napoli can’t be blamed for all of the Angels’ worries, but he is in a unique position to make a significant impact on every one of the aforementioned categories.

If he can’t, they will use him to find someone who can.

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