Nava making most of opportunity - every day

Nava making most of opportunity - every day
September 17, 2013, 12:00 am
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(USA Today Sports)

BOSTON – Daniel Nava’s story is well-known and heart-warming, a message of hope for any kid who’s been told he or she can’t do it.
 
Nava who turned 30 in February, was the kid who was too small to make his high school or college team. He was relegated to the job of equipment manager in college, spending late nights in laundromats in some sketchy locales, responsible for making sure the team’s uniforms were clean for the next day’s game. He eventually got a spot on the roster at Santa Clara University and led the West Coast Conference in batting and on-base percentage as a senior in 2006. Undrafted, he joined an independent team, from which the Red Sox plucked him in 2008. His grand slam on the first pitch he saw in the major leagues in 2010 only added to the legend.
 
But the truth is this season Nava has turned himself into a solid, everyday major league player.
 
“I hope so,” Nava said after Sunday night’s win over the Yankees, in which he went 4-for-5 Sunday night against the Yankees, matching his career-high in hits for the fifth time in his career and third time this season.
 
“The coaching staff gave me an opportunity to play more than one position and they gave me an opportunity to play infield, outfield. And those things help, they keep you on the field. But I would hope that if that wasn’t the case, playing multiple positions, that at least being a part of a winning team, that goes a long way. So that’s obviously not for me to say. That’s for other people to determine that stuff. But I’d like to think I at least took a step in that direction.”
 
Safe to say, he’s done that. After making his big league debut in 2010, Nava didn’t play a game for the major league team in 2011. In 2012 he appeared in 88 games, batting .243.
 
This season, Nava is now batting .306 with a .392 on-base percentage and .452 slugging percentage. The switch-hitter’s splits are much better from left side (.326/.417/.489) than the right (.248/.314/.343).
 
But his overall numbers have him in elite company. His OBP is fifth in the American League, behind only Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Joe Mauer, and David Ortiz. His SLG is sixth among AL outfielders, behind Trout, Adam Jones, Jose Bautista, Shane Victorino, and Torii Hunter. Those are not names Nava’s has been typically associated with in his career. But maybe we’ll have to get used to that.
 
“I’m trying to relax as much as I can,” he said. “For me, I know my game and my game is more relaxed. My head stays a little stiller [during at-bats]. There’s less movement. And hopefully that allows me to make more solid contact. But, if a guy’s making his pitch and I’m swinging at it, he’s usually going to get the better of me.
 
“But I’m trying not to do too much this year. I think this year, I know the type of player I am, and just let that player play. If that turns out to be .350, great, .250, great. [But,] I’ve got to stick with who I am. I think a couple of years ago, I lost sight of that.”
 
He’s also made himself into a versatile defender. In 124 games, Nava has appeared in 61 games in right field, 60 in left, 19 at first base – where he had not played since college -- five serving as the designated hitter, and one in center field. He’s played multiple positions in 24 games,  going between first base and the outfield in 13.
 
That kind of versatility can be invaluable to a manager.
 
“In terms of roster construction, he’s almost like having two players because of what he’s capable of,” said manager John Farrell.
 
“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. And there’s been a number of time where we’ve even pinch hit for him to take advantage of maybe a more strong right-handed bat.
 
“I don’t know that [defensive versatility] can ever be overstated because…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 in to strict defensive spots with every player. So corner outfield, first base, DH, and at the same time, by OPS he’s the 11th most productive outfielder in the whole game. He’s having a heck of a year.”
 
And that in itself is new for Nava. In his past two major league seasons, he’s faded as the season has gone on. This season, though, he’s gotten stronger later in the season.
 
“Man there’s a lot of things,” Nava said of the reasons for his success this season. “Knowing your role, knowing when you’re going to play, really allows, I think, any player who’s in my position to get in a good rhythm, a good routine, and that goes a long way with the length of the season. Being able to establish that. Having a baby.”
 
The last he added with a laugh. But, perhaps there is some truth to it. Nava’s wife Rachel gave birth to daughter Faith, the couple’s first child, on Aug. 5. Since then, Nava is batting a whopping .400, going 34-for-85 with a .475 OBP, and .576 SLG.
 
“You know what, maybe I was thinking about it a lot,” he said. “I don’t know. I think I’m just trying to finish the season strong, just as every guy in the clubhouse is.”
 
So far, he’s doing that. Nava is batting .358/.444/.519 in the second half, compared to .288/.374/.429 in the first half. The reasons go back to spring training, Nava said.
 
“I think just a lot helps when you make a team out of spring training,” he said. “You feel comfortable with the guys, and you feel like you’re part of the team, rather than getting called up. That was big for me. But the second half I think last year I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay up or if I was going to go down, and that uncertainty can wear on you a little bit. Fortunately, this year that hasn’t been the case. But I think just trying to relax. And when you’ve done something multiple times, so this is my second, third time being up here, you get a little more comfortable. The first time you’re feeling yourself out, the second time you’re trying to establish yourself and the third time you’re hopefully just a little more comfortable.”
 
Comfort, along with consistency, is key.
 
“I think the more at-bats and the more games played at this level,” Farrell said. “I think over the past couple of years just talking to staff that have been here, the one thing we’ve had to balance is his stamina particular at this level. But, I think in time he’s growing into that and understanding the expectations of the big league level and what it takes to compete at the performance level  he’s given us. And it’s a helluva story.”
 
In a clubhouse now full of good guys, Nava has always been one of the nicest. It’s easy to root for a guy like that.
 
“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 you root for because this is a story that’s like no other in the game,” Farrell said. “To perform at the level he is right now, this is something that no one could ever foresee. And the work that he’s put in, he’s the one that is deserving of all the credit that comes his way.”
 
As much as Nava stands as a credit to perseverance, he’s also a reminder to all to keep an open mind.
 
“I’m sure all players who know what his story is will look to that,” Farrell said. “But I think it’s also important to us that we can never fully measure what’s inside a given player. So that they’re willingness to work and overcome some of their shortcomings, that’s why you never give up on a guy that shows you some talent. And if they are given enough opportunity and time they can overcome some things.”