Nava got the Red Sox on the scoreboard in the second inning of Thursday’s game with a sacrifice fly to left-center field following a lengthy at-bat in which he worked the count full. It was the only RBI that Nava was credited for in the game, but one could argue that he was directly responsible for the five-run seventh inning that fueled Boston’s 6-1 victory over the Phillies.
Michael Stutes came on to pitch the seventh for Philadelphia, and he got two quick outs before walking Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Nava came up next and extended the inning by earning a free pass, but it was the hustle he demonstrated after reaching base that proved to be a difference-maker.
Jose Iglesias chopped a ground ball to Yuniesky Betancourt at short. Betancourt flipped to Freddy Galvis at second base for what would normally be an easy force out to end the inning. Nava was hustling all the way, though, and he beat out Betancourt’s flip, which allowed Matty Johnson — who pinch ran for Saltalamacchia — to come all the way around with Boston’s second run. A Shane Victorino bases-clearing triple and a Dustin Pedroia RBI double later, the Red Sox held a 6-1 lead that they’d never relinquish.
It’s hardly the first time that Nava has made an impact this spring. Following Thursday’s game, in which he also added a single, the 30-year-old is hitting .325 (13-for-40) in Grapefruit League play. The real value, however, has been Nava’s typical willingness to play whatever role is required.
It didn’t take long for Nava, who was expected to spend last season at Triple-A Pawtucket, to be called upon in 2012. He was called up prior to Boston’s May 10 game, and he ended up compiling 317 plate appearances in 88 games for the injury-plagued Red Sox. He hit just .243 in that span, but the switch-hitting outfielder had an on-base percentage of .383 in 222 plate appearances against lefties, proving he’s a solid option as a fourth or fifth outfielder.
Nava has become more than that this spring, though. With the Red Sox needing a solid backup to the recently signed Mike Napoli, Nava has broken out the first baseman’s mitt and played 18 innings at a position he’s never played at either the major league or minor league level.
Nava has looked fairly comfortable down at first base in his limited action, and the added versatility will give the Red Sox some more flexibility going forward. There’s a good chance the Red Sox will opt to keep Mike Carp and/or Lyle Overbay — two players who are also competing for the backup first baseman gig — but Nava’s willingness to play first base opens up more lineup possibilities for manager John Farrell. That’s important given David Ortiz‘s uncertain health status.
Nava will always find it difficult to secure an everyday spot in the lineup, especially in Boston, where the talent level is so often high. But he’s proven in the past that he has the makings of a big leaguer, and this spring has only solidified that notion.
This season’s media guide should reflect it.