Nava on the comeback trail

191542.jpg

Nava on the comeback trail

By Danny Picard
CSNNE.com 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.

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

world_series_francona_epstein_102416.png

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.