PAWTUCKET -- Monday night marked the 21st game of Daniel Nava’s penance with the PawSox.
The gone-but-certainly-not-forgotten Red Sox outfielder/first baseman carried a .275 batting average, .370 on-base percentage and a .435 slugging mark out to his right-field post while looking to extend a nine-game hitting streak.
“I don’t pay attention to that or worry about hitting streaks,” stated a straight-faced Nava, making it hard to distinguish whether he was being naïve or modest. “I’m just trying to be comfortable in the box and improve on some stuff that I came down here to try and work on. It was not necessarily do this or that. It’s about getting more comfortable, which I think I am.”
Nava’s Triple-A numbers are more likely to elicit a polite golf clap than thunderous opera applause. Still, his road back to the parent club looks like it will be smoother than the one Will Middlebrooks encountered last summer.
Like Nava, Middlebrooks was banished to the hinterlands after becoming a lineup liability for Boston. And Middlebrooks didn’t exactly light it up during his non-rehab stint with the PawSox, batting .238 during the month of July on his way to posting a .268 mark in 35 games.
The real reason why the Red Sox brought Middlebrooks back into the big-league fold was that they needed help at third base. On potential alone, he was a vast upgrade to Brandon Snyder and Brock Holt, two players who shared time there after the trade of Jose Iglesias to Detroit.
We revisit Middlebrooks’ summer of redemption with the PawSox because in the case of Nava, the waves appear to breaking in his favor for him to wash along Boston’s shores. When examining current BoSox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.’s stats, the immediate reaction is to hold your nose while trying not to gag. His .205 batting average and .299 on-base percentage have come in a sample size that makes them fair game for critical evaluations.
Bradley has appeared in 40 of the Red Sox’ 43 games to date. The fact that Boston manager John Farrell keeps sending him out there despite his struggles speaks more to the hesitancy of making Grady Sizemore the fulltime centerfielder. Sizemore is best used only in a pinch here and there as far as manning center.
Still, there has to come a point when Bradley’s ability to track down fly balls is unable to mask the fact that the 24-year-old is not providing enough offense at this particular stage of his career to be playing so frequently.
Bottom line? Bradley needs some seasoning a la Middlebrooks and Nava. He needs to come to Pawtucket and get to work at rebuilding his swing with hitting coach Dave Joppie. He simply cannot continue to serve as an automatic out for Boston. What goes up must come down. If Bradley has a locker at McCoy Stadium with a personalized nameplate on top of it, chances are that Nava’s personal space will have been cleaned out.
And if such a scenario does come to fruition, Nava has the complete backing of PawSox manager Kevin Boles.
“From what we’ve seen here, Daniel has been encouraging. That information has been forwarded to the top,” Boles said. “We’ve been very happy with his progression and it starts with his character and attitude. His approach at the plate, he’s made some adjustments there too.”
For any naysayers who feel a Bradley-for-Nava swap would result in placing the shaky Sizemore in center field on a far-too frequent basis, keep this in mind: Nava has appeared in four games in center field with the PawSox and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.
“The thing that’s been encouraging is that he directs traffic out there. Normally with guys who haven’t played a lot of center field, they’re kind of on their own little island and they’re not sure as far as the positioning with the corner outfielders,” Boles said. “He’s engaging with the dugout and right and left fielders and takes charge out there. It’s been good to see.”
On playing center field, a move no doubt spurred as Bradley’s batting average began to straddle the Mendoza Line, “It’s a challenge that allows me to study swings. What I mean by that is you can learn how to play a guy over the course of a series, whether his swing is on time or he’s leaking and then apply it to right or left field. It doesn’t mean that it’s always going to be factual that it’s going to happen like that, but it’s a tendency that makes it a little bit easier when looking in from center field.”
During ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” telecast, John Kruk declared that the Red Sox need to make a move for a player. The camera panned to general manager Ben Cherington as Kruk spoke, though any baseball person who understands that the buyers and sellers won’t be emerging until close to the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline knows that no one is making trades of significance prior to Memorial Day.
At this moment, internal answers are the best and only avenue. Luckily for the Red Sox, if and when they decide to farm out Bradley, there’s a solution already waiting in the wings.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03