BOSTON —- In their offseason roster overhaul, the Red Sox targeted high-character players who also happened to crush left-handed pitching.
Thus, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino were all signed to free-agent deals.
But in the team's home opener, it was Daniel Nava -- of all people -- who changed the game.
The switch-hitting Nava was a surprise starter in left field against the Baltimore Orioles. It had been expected that rookie Jackie Bradley Jr., who had started each of the first six games of the season in left, would get the call.
Instead, manager John Farrell went with Nava, which was doubly curious given Nava's struggles from the right side against lefties. Nava's career OPS as a right-handed batter is .621, considerably weaker than his .776 from the left side against right-handers.
Nava then made Farrell look smart when, against southpaw Wei-Yin Chen, he walked in the second, singled in the fifth and, finally, homered over everything in left with two men on in the seventh, providing the winning runs in Boston's 3-1 victory.
"Classic pitcher's duel," said Farrell, referring to Chen and Clay Buchholz matching zeroes for 6 1/2 innings, "and one swing of the bat becomes the difference."
When asked why he chose Nava over Bradley, Farrell ticked off the following factors: "The way Chen's been effective against lefties; [the fact that] Jackie's been pitched to pretty consistently here of late, and really, the way Daniel's swung the bat."
And it was Nava who made the decision work out.
"I think he's done a much better job of picking out pitches to drive,:" said Farrell. "He puts up consistent at-bats -- base hit in his second at-bat, he walks in his first at-bat and then the difference in his final bat today. He's done a heck of a job at the plate."
Nava was told that he would be in the lineup on the plane right back from Toronto Sunday night, giving him a chance to mentally prepare. But actually, he'd been working on improving his effectiveness from the right side all spring.
That made things busy spring for Nava, who -- between maintaining swings from both sides of the plate -- also, at the team's behest, worked on learning how to handle first base to go along with his outfield play.
"It's definitely challenging," said Nava of his workload as a switch-hitter, "and being that my natural side is my left side, I have to work harder on my right side. I think this spring training was a good opportunity to do that. I faced a lot of lefties in the beginning of the spring, so it was good opportunity to say, 'This is what I should do,' and 'This is what I should do.'
"But you can't replay or repeat what you get out [in game action] with what you do with your cage work, so getting out there and doing it and feeling it is the only way to get yourself back to being right."
It helped that new hitting coach Greg Colbrunn and assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez detected that, from the right side of the plate, Nava needed to be more relaxed in his set-up and locking the lower half his body.
"I was floating a little bit on balls and being what they call 'rotational,'" explained Nava. "They were able to say, 'From the left side you do this [and have success]; let's try to mirror that from the right side.' And that's just been a focus -- keep it simple and do those things."
The home-run heroics came on Nava's first home opener. Never before had he opened the season in the big leagues, having been promoted during the season in both 2010 and last year.
After eight seasons of pro ball -- some in independent league, the rest in the minors -- his first home opener was worth the wait.
"It was definitely all it was cranked up to be, that's for sure," he said smiling at the thought. "It was a special moment for me. Obviously, for us to be back home in front of our fans after being on the road is also special. The environment is something you just can't fake. So to get the win and have everything go the way it did was definitely special."