BOSTON — Go ahead. Count out Daniel Nava. It wouldn’t be the first time the outfielder has been written off.
Nava’s entire baseball career has been built on defying the odds, so a demotion to Triple-A Pawtucket likely isn’t going to rattle the 31-year-old, even if it’s somewhat surprising given how well he played last season during the Red Sox’s improbable World Series run. In fact, Red Sox manager John Farrell said Wednesday that while Nava needs to work on some things before rejoining the major league club, the outfielder could return to make an impact for Boston before long.
“I think he was certainly disappointed by the news he was going to be optioned back. He was a big part of this offense last year, particularly as a left-handed hitter. But we’ve got to get him back on track,” Farrell said Wednesday on WEEI’s “Dale & Holley Show.” “The at-bats and the consistency of at-bats is not there right now as it was a year ago. There’s a need for a little bit more of a consistent two-strike approach, and he needs to go back and continue to get reps as a right-handed hitter. We feel like he’s going to contribute to this offense before the year is out. We’ve just got to get him back hitting with confidence and just the overall game played with more confidence.”
Nava entered spring training before the 2013 season without a defined role in the organization, but he cracked the major league roster after a strong camp in which he also learned to play first base, making him even more valuable to the big league club. Nava then proceeded to enjoy a breakout season, hitting .303 with 12 homers, 66 RBIs and a .385 on-base percentage in 134 regular-season games. Only Mike Trout — the back-to-back American League MVP runner-up — posted a better OBP among primary AL outfielders.
Nava, a switch-hitter, was far better against right-handed pitching last season — he hit .322 with a .411 OBP against righties and .252 with a .311 OBP against lefties — so he certainly was an imperfect player entering 2014. But Nava’s flaws have been exposed more than the Red Sox anticipated, and with Shane Victorino set to return from the 15-day disabled list, Boston couldn’t afford to keep a struggling outfielder — especially one with two minor league options remaining.
The Red Sox sent down Nava on Wednesday and called up pitcher Alex Wilson because Boston needed an additional arm given the way the bullpen has been taxed in recent days. Nava’s demotion pretty much was inevitable anyway, though, particularly with him struggling against right-handed pitching — hitting .174 (8-for-46) — this season.
Farrell all but confirmed Wednesday that Jackie Bradley Jr. has earned Boston’s everyday center field job through his defense, particularly his range. Boston views Grady Sizemore as more of a corner outfielder now, meaning Sizemore, Bradley and Victorino will comprise the Red Sox’s starting outfield in the coming days, while Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp will make spot starts against lefties and righties, respectively.
Don’t be surprised if Nava comes storming back to Boston in the near future if something goes awry in the Red Sox’s outfield. Nava, whom the Red Sox purchased for $1 from the Chico Outlaws of the independent Golden Baseball League back in 2008, has shown an ability to thrive in the face of adversity, and Wednesday’s demotion hardly is a permanent goodbye.
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