FORT MYERS, Fla. — Daniel Nava is taking a trial-and-error approach to offense this spring.
Nava has been a switch-hitter for most of his baseball life, yet the 32-year-old outfielder is considering abandoning the practice. Since Nava is a far better hitter from the left side, he’s going to experiment in camp with batting solely left-handed, even against left-handed pitchers.
“I struggled from the right side last year, and being that I wasn’t getting consistent at-bats, it’s worth a shot because maybe it’ll allow me to get some more at-bats,” Nava said Saturday at JetBlue Park.
Nava hit .159 with a .399 OPS in 67 plate appearances batting right-handed versus left-handers in 2014. He hit .293 with a .769 OPS in 341 plate appearances batting left-handed versus right-handers.
The drastic splits weren’t a new development, either. Nava is a .293 hitter with an .813 OPS in 1,112 career plate appearances batting left-handed versus righties. He’s a .209 hitter with a .585 OPS in 337 career plate appearances batting right-handed against lefties.
“This conversation and talks began late last season with him,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Nava potentially doing away with switch-hitting. “Just feeling he’s a more productive hitter from the left side and focus on that one side of the plate. I think we’ll see some at-bats right-handed in camp, but there’s going to be some early opportunities against left-handers in which he’ll hit left-handed.”
Nothing is definitive. Nava could go through spring training and ultimately decide that batting exclusively left-handed just isn’t for him. Things are trending toward an offensive shift, though, as the veteran said he’s starting to feel more comfortable with batting left-on-left. It’s now about tinkering with various stances and figuring out what works best.
“My swing is still the same. It’s more or less the setups so that I can see the ball better,” Nava said. “From the right side, you’ve got both of your eyes. But from the left, from what I’ve seen, it’s just a little more challenging. If you’re facing like an Andrew Miller, he’s throwing from the dugout, (then) I guess I’d be Tony Batista (who is known for his unique stance).
“That’s more or less (what I’m focused on). The swing is still the same, and my approach is still the same, as well. So hopefully with the approach, it’ll give me a little bit easier of a transition.”
In order to further ease the transition, Nava sought the advice of former major league first baseman J.T. Snow, who went through a similar change late in his career. Nava was put in touch with Snow through Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, and he came away from the conversation with valuable information.
“Some of the things he did to help himself adjust, that’s what I took away,” Nava said. “He goes, ‘It’s not an easy thing to do. But I definitely did this, this, this, this and it helped me a lot.’ And since I’ve never done it, having a little bit of a game plan helps. Just to know all right, that worked for him, this might work for me.
“But it’s just throwing a bunch of darts at a dartboard and seeing which ones stick.”
It’s worth noting that four of the Red Sox’s other outfielders — Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig — are right-handed hitters. Shane Victorino is a switch-hitter, and plans to resume the practice in 2015, but is a better hitter from the right side.
So, when was the last time Nava tried to hit left-on-left?
“I think RBI Baseball 1989,” Nava joked. “I’ve actually always switch-hit my whole life, so it’s probably been (a while). In high school, I wasn’t very good. And college, I wasn’t that good, either, so I didn’t do it too much then.”
The good news for Nava is that he once went 1-for-2 during an Independent League tryout while batting right-handed against a right-handed pitcher. Perhaps this experiment will yield similar success.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images