Monday, August 1, 2011

Nava knocking harder to break slump

For the second time in three nights, Daniel Nava made his lone plate-appearance for the PawSox in the form of a pinch-hit Monday. And when he took the bat in lieu of the No. 9-slotted right fielder Ronald Bermudez, the left fielder was in a position to lay down a storybook smash on a recent cold spell.

With the visiting Louisville Bats leading, 3-2, and with Nate Spears on second base, Nava stood as Pawtucket’s last hope after both Luis Exposito and Brent Dlugach left Spears hanging.

In a fairytale world not unlike the one he simulated last summer with his first-pitch, first-at-bat grand slam in the Majors, Nava would have simultaneously belted his first dinger since June 12 and Pawtucket’s first walk-off home run since May of last season.

Instead, the ever-practical, down-to-earth Nava passively exploited Louisville closer Jordan Smith’s ghastly lack of command. He drew a five-pitch walk to keep the game alive. And when Che-Hsuan Lin, Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway successfully took a similar approach, Nava found himself crossing home plate for the most literal walk-off and a 4-3 PawSox triumph.

That was sufficient for a much-needed win, regardless of how it was attained. But in the wake of his two recent relegations to the reserves’ office, odds are Nava is growing increasingly poised to thaw out his own bat and help resuscitate the PawSox’ offense in general.

Whether or not he starts in left field once again in the four-game series finale with the Bats on Tuesday afternoon, Nava is about to round out a long week since he went 4-for-5 with four singles in Lehigh Valley July 26.

Since then, he has hit a featherlike 1-for-18 with two walks, including Monday’s rally-starter, and five strikeouts. His only hit has been a double last Friday. The rest of the time, he has failed to reach base at any point in four whole games.

One potential plus point, though, is that most of Nava’s more recent outs have seen him go down with a little more fight. This past Saturday, he was summoned to fill in for Lars Anderson in the seventh inning when it appeared as though the parent Boston club was exporting the cleanup man to Oakland for pitcher Rich Harden.

Nava flied out to right in his only plate appearance that evening. On Sunday, he returned to the starting lineup as the No. 2 hitter and went 0-for-4; although, on two occasions, he sent the ball a respectable distance to left-center. And in his final at-bat, he redirected on offering to the outfield, albeit in foul territory, where it was caught.

Previously, over the last three games of the series in Lehigh Valley, Nava had flied out thrice, but also grounded out four times and endured five strikeouts. With his double on Friday, he contributed only one of Pawtucket’s 18 total hits over those three games.

Since coming home, the PawSox as a whole have run into something of an untimely offensive downturn as they enter the homestretch. They have racked up eight runs on 17 hits in three bouts with the Bats and most of the upper echelon of the batting order has been easily stifled.

Lin is suddenly on an 0-for-9 drought (but has also drawn six walks) after going 12-for-45 in the previous 10 games. Anderson and Lavarnway have combined for merely three hits while striking out a combined seven times in this series.

But Nava has been barren just a little longer than those three. And on Monday, it was rather telling when manager Arnie Beyeler waited to summon him until the bottom of the ninth when he theoretically could have activated Nava as early as the top of the fourth.

After all, Spears was unconventionally starting in left field while a rehabbing Jed Lowrie played short and the comparatively colder-batting Brent Dlugach took second base. When Lowrie came off at the end of the third inning, Beyeler might have transplanted Spears to short and put Nava in his usual outfield office.

Instead, Iglesias succeeded Lowrie and nobody else changed positions. Not until Nava filled in for Bermudez, who went 2-for-3 on the night with a pair of base hits.

Was that second forced respite the final ingredient Nava needs to collect a new wind and start hitting habitually again? He is his own juror in that department and deliberation begins as early as Tuesday’s noontime tilt at McCoy.