The narrower path back: How Daniel Nava rediscovered his swing

June 13, 2014 - 9:30 pm
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The return of the Daniel Nava who ranked among the top table setters in the American League last year would represent a huge boost to any lineup, but such a player would be especially significant for the Red Sox, a club that has received little offense from its outfield. After beginning the season mired in an ugly slump during which he hit just .149 with a .240 OBP, Nava is showing encouraging signs of returning to his 2013 self, a player who ranked second on the team with a .303 average and .385 OBP. The Red Sox bats came to life on Friday night as they tagged Indians'€™ pitching for a season-high runs total in a 10-3 victory. All of a sudden, the Red Sox lineup looks a little longer and more dangerous, thanks in no small part to the return of Mike Napoli from the disabled list and the recent surge from Nava. Since being recalled a second time from Triple-A Pawtucket, where he spent almost a month, Nava is 11-for-24 (a .458 average) with two doubles and a walk. He'€™s put together three multi-hit games since June 7, including a 2-for-4 night on Friday in which he doubled in a run, his first major league RBI since April 15. "He looks confident in the box, he's relaxed, he's in a better position in these last eight or 10 games that he's been back with us," manager John Farrell said. "Gets an RBI double from the right side of the plate, which there's been limited exposure to that side and I think it just speaks to the confidence in which he's swinging the bat right now." So what's been the difference for Nava since returning to the Red Sox lineup? Nava's explanation is pretty straightforward. "I'm just trying to simplify things," Nava said. "Sometimes you can complicate an already-complicated game. So I'm keeping it simple." But the outfielder has also made some mechanical adjustments at the plate, working on some issues during his time in Pawtucket. "I had a little wider base than I realized, so it was impacting my ability to let my hands go and be free," Nava said. "Then [it was] just stepping up to the plate and see the ball, hit the ball. Don't think too much. So a combination of those at least allowed me to feel a little bit more comfortable. I think that's the first thing you want to do as a hitter is you want to feel comfortable, so it's just getting to that point." Despite his success in 2013, Nava was demoted less than a month into the season, playing in 17 games before he was optioned. The 31-year-old says that while a slump at any point in time is a difficult thing to deal with, one to begin the season presents its own challenges. "I mean, obviously no player wants to go through [a slump], but the urgency to get off to a quick start is always something that's imperative so when you don't, or when I didn't, you start looking for answers quicker compared to having a bigger sample size to draw from," Nava said. With a short amount of time to prove his value to the major league club, it'€™s no surprise that Nava was pressing at the plate, regardless of his impressive performance in 2013. "I think that you look at what's happened -- any player does -- at your track record and draw from that," Nava said. "At the same time, I had to be realistic about what was going on and see what adjustments I had to make. At a certain point, you have to let the results go, and I think the more you press for them, the more you stress over them. So results aren't on my mind anymore, I'm not going to worry about this stuff." Then there'€™s the obvious issue of playing time. In his first recall from Pawtucket, Nava was used sparingly. He appeared in five games from May 24 to May 29, but received four plate appearances in just one of those. But that's changed as of late. Nava has started in five of the Red Sox' last six games, and the consistent playing time might have an effect on his production. "I don'€™t want to make it into anything. Maybe it's a combination of both [simplifying things] and at the same time getting a chance to play and go out there and being free to make mistakes and stuff like that," Nava said. "I take responsibility for not playing well earlier, but at the same time, being with the team where everyone's hitting, it's contagious." If hitting is contagious, Nava has caught the bug. And over the last week, Nava is showing that if his bat heats up, it can be a huge boost to the Red Sox lineup. "Nava's finally swinging the bat like I think everyone expected him to," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "If those guys get going, we keep everyone else going, then it just adds depth to our lineup, makes it deeper, makes it tougher on the other team's pitcher to get through it." "I think guys like Nava getting his stroke back goes a long way to lengthening out the lineup," Farrell added. The Red Sox will need all the help they can get to gain ground in a tight American League East race, and a productive Nava is a good start.

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