BOSTON — MLB teams were finally able to expand their rosters this month. The Red Sox’ roster had been playing like it included more than 25 players long before Sept. 1.
The Red Sox have been able to move some players around, and Daniel Nava is a big reason why. Nava, who is capable of playing the outfield and first base while batting all around the lineup, has become the model of versatility for Boston.
“I don’t know that it can be ever overstated,” manager John Farrell said Sunday. “We’ve got a number of guys that have that versatility and it gives us a chance to get some guys off their feet. We can match up inside a game and move him from the outfield to first base. It opens things up. It doesn’t keep us pinned into strict defensive spots with every player. Corner outfield, first base, DH and, at the same, that OPS. He’s the 11th-most productive outfielder in the whole game. He’s having a heck of a year.”
Nava has been outstanding this year. He enters Sunday’s game with a .300 average, 11 home runs and 62 RBIs. His .388 on-base percentage is fifth in the American League and second to Mike Trout (.438) among AL outfielders. Nava’s .831 OPS is third among AL outfielders.
Nava’s defensive flexibility has really been an asset to the Red Sox, though. Because of his ability to bounce between the outfield and first base, the Red Sox are able to use Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp and others off the bench more freely in the later innings. It has allowed the Red Sox to take advantage of matchups, and we’ve seen a number of big pinch hits that might not have otherwise come to fruition.
“That adds so much freedom to our decision-making in the moment,” Farrell said. “Whether it’s pinch hitting Jonny Gomes for Carp and we can use Daniel as kind of the safety valve in all that. Or days when we’ve pinch ran for Mike Napoli and do some other things, it allows a lot of freedom in the strategy, either in the middle or late innings.
“The defensive side is probably the most important because of what we can do with other matchups, and yet he’s got a strong side of the plate that we’re well aware of,” Farrell added. “There’s been a number of times that we’ve even pinch hit for him to take advantage of maybe a more strong right-handed bat. But in terms of roster construction, he’s almost like having two players because of what he’s capable of.”
Nava’s ability to hit all over the lineup has also been important, especially when the Red Sox have battled injuries or have needed to give guys days off. Nava is batting second Sunday, but he has also shown an ability to produce in the middle of the order.
Nava reached base in 41 consecutive starts from June 22 to Sept. 6, during which he batted .356 with a .439 on-base percentage. It was the second-longest such streak in the AL this season — Miguel Cabrera had a 44-game streak — and the longest by a Red Sox player since Kevin Youkilis’ 44-game streak in 2008.
Making Nava’s season even more remarkable is that it’s by far the most big league action he has seen. Nava’s previous career-high for games played and plate appearances was 88 and 317, respectively. Sunday will mark his 124th game of 2013, and he enters with 488 plate appearances. The 30-year-old has responded well to the workload, though, hitting .368 (32-for-87) since Aug. 1.
“I think any time there’s a willingness to take constructive feedback and work as hard as he has to overcome maybe a deficiency in the moment, it’s a guy that you root for because this is a story that is like no other in the game,” Farrell said. “To perform at the level he is right now, which is something that no one could ever foresee, and the work that he’s put in, he’s the one that’s deserving of all the credit that comes his way.”
Nava really is — as Farrell noted — like having two players to work with. Two very productive players.