Nava on the comeback trail


Nava on the comeback trail

By Danny Picard Follow @dannypicard
PAWTUCKET A championship belt hangs over the idle locker of Josh Reddick, the outfielder who was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket to Boston in May, and is now hitting above a .400 clip in the majors.

Several lockers down sits Daniel Nava, the former collegiate equipment manager who was purchased by Red Sox organization for just 1 and shortly after, made his mark in the big leagues by hitting a grand slam on the first pitch he ever saw with Boston.

Nava played in 60 games with Boston last season, hitting .242 with one home run and 26 RBI in 161 at-bats from June to October.

In a sense, Nava sort of came out of nowhere, and by all accounts, exceeded expectations.

But Nava didnt get off to a good start in 2011, and in order for Boston to make room for Drew Sutton on the 40-man roster, Nava was designated for assignment on May 19.

Six days later, Nava was outrighted back to Triple-A Pawtucket. From there on out, he knew something had to change, in order to improve off his .189 batting average which included zero home runs and only 10 RBI over his first 132 at-bats.

Its been a different season than I think what I would have hoped, said Nava. But I
definitely learned a lot about just getting back a mentality of letting the game come to me and just relaxing and not pressing. Sometimes I guess you just lose focus of that, and I think with being designated and whatnot, it forced me to go back to what at least got me to this point.

What got him to this point was his swing, something that he kept unnecessarily trying to change during the first two months of the season, before being designated for assignment.

Since returning to the team, hes stopped trying to tweak that swing, and has improved his average to .275, and has three home runs and 22 RBI through 66 total games with Pawtucket this season. Hes done so by hitting .382 with four doubles and six RBI in his last 10 games.

Its a huge turnaround, said PawSox hitting coach Chili Davis. Its just incredible. I
think he was hitting a buck-fifty about two months ago.

Hes a good hitter. Everyone told me he was a good hitter. When he came here, he was under the misconception that he needed to hit home runs. He doesnt. Hes not a home-run hitter. He has pop in his bat. But Ive watched him work, work, work, work, work from big-league spring training on to almost the end of April here. He wasnt willing to make a whole lot of changes. But he was open to suggestions.

Davis biggest suggestion for Nava was to stop trying to mess with his natural swing.

They were more mental with him, said Davis. I said, Hey, youve been working on
your swing since spring training. When the hell are you going to trust it? Just track the
ball and whack it. Your swings fine. Your swings a good swing. See the ball, see where it is, see the speed, and trust putting your swing on that ball.

Once that suggestion was made, he was in the cage soft-tossing, and he was hitting the ball hard, was consistently on balance, and he took it out to the game. And thats the kind of player he is. When you can take it out of here -- in the batting cages and in batting practice and take it into the games, thats when you know that you have something. Youre a good enough hitter to be able to maintain that discipline, from the cage work, to batting practice, to the game situations.

And thats basically what hes done, added Davis. His swing is his swing. Earlier in
the year, he just wasnt trusting it. He always came up with something that didnt feel
right or was wrong with it. And from the guy tossing to him or pitching to him, I didnt
see anything wrong.

Now -- assuming the ankle injury he suffered after getting hit by a pitch on Saturday is not serious -- Nava is making a case for another major-league call-up, only, the name called on the other end of the phone hasnt yet been his.

Reddick is already with Boston, and is making a case to never be sent back down to
retain the John Cena WWE title belt that hangs over his name-plate.

Nava believes its not something that would be healthy for him to focus on, saying, Thats just a game you cant get caught up in.

Its out of my control, said Nava. I can only do what I can do. And sometimes, theres different needs that they need in Boston. And I dont really know what those are, but again, if you get caught up in that, its going to take you away from even putting yourself in a position to potentially get that call-up.

I think if you ask anyone in this locker room, they know thats a game you just cant
go play. You just have to control what you can control, and let those guys make the
decisions that they choose to make.

Nava was adamant that he doesnt use bulletin-board material to his advantage. But
seeing how hes come this far, and how hes got here, it would be crazy to think that he hasnt been out to prove people wrong since being designated for assignment in May.

The key thing was when they took him off the roster, said Davis. He came back here, and there was a certain determination to prove to everyone that, I am as good as you thought I am, maybe better. And you can see that.

Why not use it? Prove to people that theyre wrong . . . The kids got a good swing. Hes a switch hitter. And he works very hard at it. So Id like to see him stay hot for the rest of the year, and see what kind of numbers he can put up.

Whether or not he ever gets called up to the big leagues again, one thing is clear: Nava gets it. He understands the business. Not only do his words back that up, but his tone does too.

With the Sox, they do a great job of getting really good talent, said Nava. Id love
for my long-term future to be with the Sox. Id love to play up there in Boston for a while, or just stay in the Sox organization. They treat you well.

If its not supposed to be, Ill definitely say I enjoyed the time I had here. Theyre the
only ones who gave me a shot, out of independent ball, so thats something that Ill never forget.

And Navas hitting coach believes that if the call from Boston does come again, good
things will come.

They liked him at one time, said Davis. I think the next time, if he gets another
opportunity to go up there and play, if he goes up there and sticks with what hes doing and trusts it up there, I dont see any reason why he shouldnt have success up there.

Danny Picard is on twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard.

Drellich: Bogaerts should start season in second half of lineup

Drellich: Bogaerts should start season in second half of lineup

The Red Sox need to let their lineup sort itself out a bit, and really, need to see how one core player in particular fares: Xander Bogaerts. 
Until then, Red Sox manager John Farrell should try to alternate right- and left-handed hitters as much as possible against right-handed pitching
If Thursday’s Grapefruit League lineup indeed winds up as a preview for the regular season, Farrell’s on the right track.
1. Dustin Pedroia 2B
2. Andrew Benintendi LF
3. Mookie Betts RF
4. Hanley Ramirez DH
5. Mitch Moreland 1B
6. Xander Bogaerts SS
7. Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
8. Pablo Sandoval 3B
9. Blake Swihart C
Sandy Leon or Christian Vazquez should be at catcher normally, rather than Swihart. (If Leon shows he can in fact hit again, the Sox could also decide to put Jackie Bradley Jr. in the nine-hole.)
"Maybe a first look at our lineup," manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida. "I'm not saying this is Opening Day, but this is potential for one on Opening Day. And just to get everybody back in the rhythm. We've kind of fragmented because of the WBC and because of travel and bouncing around the state. To get our camp finally together, I think we're all looking forward to these last remaining games."
Betts is the best all-around producer the Red Sox have. He should be in the three-hole, despite chatter than Andrew Benintendi might be a fit.
But Bogaerts’ success will determine a lot of the flexibility available to Farrell. (Yes, everybody has to be healthy for the above statement to be true. And remember, lineups are important, but probably not as important as we’ve all been raised to believe). 

If Bogaerts plays like he did in the first half, when he batted .329 en route to an All-Star appearance, he could easily slide into the three-hole, and push Betts into the second or fourth spot. Or even leadoff.
If Bogaerts is the .253 hitter he was after the All-Star break, well, the second half of the lineup is where he belongs. 
Bogaerts is, ultimately, better than he showed as both he and the season wore down. But let him establish himself in a groove before you start loading up the top of the lineup with right-handed hitters, thereby giving opposing managers a clear path for righty relievers.
(The Red Sox could pinch hit Chris Young at any time, but you’re usually not taking out one of your best players just for a platoon advantage.)
And from another perspective, you almost need Bogaerts in the second half of the lineup. Because what else is there?
Say the Sox load all four right-handed hitters at the top.
1. Pedroia
2. Bogaerts
3. Betts
4. Ramirez 
That’s awesome. Then what? Benintendi and cross your fingers? Benintendi seems as sure a thing as any sophomore — well, technically a rookie — can be. But still.
This is where Moreland and Sandoval represent other X-factors. All spring, there’s been talk of how Fenway Park and a use-all-fields approach will benefit Moreland. That may be so — but to what extent? How much better can he reasonably be? The Sox are internally encouraged.
As it stands now, however, there’s no obvious choice to protect Ramirez, considering Moreland is coming off a season where he had a .293 on-base percentage against righties.
And with Sandoval, whether he’s anything more than a wet napkin vs. left-handed pitching is to be seen. There’s reason to believe he can handle right-handed pitchers at least adequately, so he'll get the start — but he could be the first guy pinch hit for nightly.

According to Fortune, Theo's the greatest . . . in the world, not just baseball

According to Fortune, Theo's the greatest . . . in the world, not just baseball

Apparently, the Red Sox couldn’t hold onto the best leader in the world. And the best leader in the world has no idea how to housebreak his puppy.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was given the top spot on a list of “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders," published by Fortune on Thursday morning.

The potential for silly takeaways from Epstein’s placement on the list -- and his response to it in a text to ESPN’s Buster Olney -- are amusing, if not astounding.

Wait, Epstein doesn’t think baseball is the most important thing in the world?

"Um, I can't even get my dog to stop peeing in the house," Epstein told Olney. "That is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It's baseball -- a pastime involving a lot of chance. If [Ben] Zobrist’s ball is three inches farther off the line, I'm on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. And I'm not even the best leader in our organization; our players are."

Zobrist, of course, had the go-ahead hit in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Indians.

As Fortune described it, the list of leaders is meant to include those “transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same” across business, government, philanthropy and the arts.

Epstein certainly did help transform the baseball world.

“In the fall of 2016, as partisan distrust and division reached abysmal depths, fascination with the Chicago Cubs became that all-too-rare phenomenon that united America,” his blurb on the list begins.

That’s fair. But, if you scroll down the list: Pope Francis is No. 3. Angela Merkel is No. 10 and LeBron James is No. 11.