BOSTON — The Red Sox have been missing two-thirds of their starting outfield for essentially the entirety of the season, but within the span of four days have gotten both Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury back from the disabled list.
The casualties have been numerous. Darnell McDonald was designated for assignment and eventually signed with the rival New York Yankees. Ryan Kalish was sent back down to Triple-A Pawtucket just over a week ago. Scott Podsednik was also optioned back to Pawtucket on a somewhat bizarre contract technicality. But what about the extra outfielders still with the club?
For Ryan Sweeney and Daniel Nava, the future from here on out isn't exactly clear. They're ready and willing to do whatever they can to help the club — Nava came in as a late-inning defensive replacement for Crawford in Boston's 5-1 win over the Chicago White Sox on Monday night — but they're not exactly sure when those opportunities might be coming next.
In the case of Sweeney, he was initially projected to split time with Cody Ross in right field. However, Ross' body of work has probably earned him regular at-bats, as the 31-year-old has put together arguably the best season of his career, owning a .867 OPS while playing nearly everyday — save for a broken foot which cost him nearly a month.
"They haven't really said anything to me, yet," said Sweeney after Monday's game. "I don't know, I just do what I can when I'm in the lineup."
For Nava, the 29-year-old journeyman has spent the bulk of his career in the minor leagues — getting 161 at bats for the Sox in 2010 — and may well be happy just sticking with the big club. Otherwise he has little experience without regular plate appearances.
"I understand the situation I'm in," said Nava. "But it's a situation that when I got the call up it was a possibility of happening. So the whole goal is to help the team win. For the months when [Crawford and Ellsbury] weren't here I was glad to be on the field helping the team win, and right now, just coming in the ninth, do defense or pinch run, we're just trying to get a win and I was glad to be a part of it."
Nava, in particular, has performed far beyond the Red Sox' wildest dreams when they pulled him up from Pawtucket back in May. Though his batting line has come back down to earth a bit this month, Nava owned an .896 OPS over 139 at-bats coming into July. Combined with his defensive flexibility and switch-hitting skills, Nava's versatility has allowed him to stick with the Red Sox throughout this game of outfield musical chairs.
Sweeney, however, has had a little more experience in a bench role, and likewise has a better idea of how to keep himself sharp. It's no substitute for live pitching, but Sweeney definitely sounds as if he has a clear game plan going forward.
"It's tough, you've got to try to stand-in on pitchers and track pitches, take extra B.P." said Sweeney. "The main thing is that your timing kind of goes away… When you're not in there every day sometimes you press and take pitches because you haven't seen the ball in a while."
Either way, the Red Sox know they have a talented duo ready to go as they're needed throughout the season. Their lack of use may be one reason why Nava's name, in particular, has been noted in some trade rumors, but Boston has already seen firsthand how valuable quality depth is and how fragile a roster can be.
So as much as Sweeney and Nava want to get back on the field — and as much as they may have earned more time — the Red Sox likely hope their respective returns to the regular lineup don't come any time soon.