Closing Time: Daniel Nava, Clay Buchholz lead Red Sox in home opener
|04.08.13 at 4:50 pm ET|
It is very easy to typecast players at an early stage of their careers. In the case of Daniel Nava, the idea was formulated early: Though a switch-hitter, he was more of a platoon player than an everyday option, someone whose strength was as a left-handed hitter against righties and whose opportunities against southpaws were best limited.
The numbers seemed to back up the claim. Nava entered Monday with a career .265 average, .373 OBP and .403 slugging mark against right-handers, and marks of .191/.302/.318 against southpaws. But with Jackie Bradley Jr. amidst a struggle, Nava got the nod in left field in the Red Sox home opener, and not only contributed, but proved the decisive offensive force for a lineup that was otherwise dominated by Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen.
Nava became the Sox’ first baserunner of the game when walked in his first plate appearance in the bottom of the second. He then singled to left in his second trip to the plate. But those plate appearances served as the mere prelude to the decisive one of the Red Sox’ 3-1 victory.
With runners on second and third in the bottom of the seventh of a 0-0 game, Nava stepped up with the Orioles infield drawn in. A grounder might well allow Baltimore to escape the inning unscathed. There was no grounder.
Chen threw Nava three straight fastballs. After a ball and a foul ball, Nava was geared up for the next offering, a poorly located four-seamer that Nava launched onto Landsdowne Street for a decisive three-run homer, his second longball of the young season.
The 2-for-2 day in which Nava reached all three times he stepped to the plate continued a spectacular start for the 2013 season. Nava is now 6-for-12 with two homers and three walks for a gaudy .500/.588/1.083 line in the early going. Virtually every time he’s stepped to the plate, he’s given the Sox a quality at-bat — reminiscent of the way in which he transformed the lineup upon his call-up in 2012. As such, the Sox have been finding ways to get him playing time — at first base, in left field, at DH — because the 30-year-old has given them no other choice.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
– Two starts into his 2013 season, Clay Buchholz looks very much like the pitcher who dominated for four months in the middle of 2012, rather than the one who got off to a historically bad start to it. After an efficient seven innings of work in his first start in New York, the right-hander improved upon that line on Monday.
In seven shutout innings, Buchholz permitted just three hits (all singles). Though he had some control issues throughout the day (four walks, 58 percent strikes among his 113 pitches), he showed electric stuff en route to eight strikeouts, six of which came on fastballs.
The ability to sustain dominance over multiple starts has become something of a hallmark of Buchholz over the last two seasons. This April marks the fifth straight baseball month in which he’s had back-to-back starts of at least seven innings and one or no earned runs permitted (he had back-to-back starts of that ilk last June, July, August and September). No other Sox starter has had two consecutive starts of that sort of dominance in that time.
– Andrew Bailey looked overpowering in a perfect eighth inning (14 pitches, 11 strikes) that included a pair of punchouts.
– Mike Napoli‘s double to center against Chen put runners on second and third for Nava in the seventh, and continued a stretch in which Napoli has been driving the ball with some regularity to center and right. An oddity for him, however: One of the more patient hitters in the big leagues in recent years, Napoli has yet to walk.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
– Until Nava’s three-run homer, the Sox once again looked like they’d be shut down by a left-handed starter. Chen carried a shutout through six innings, following in the footsteps of Andy Pettitte (8 innings, 1 run) and J.A. Happ (5 1/3 innings, 0 runs), left-handers who likewise shut down Boston.
– Will Middlebrooks could not build upon his three-homer game on Sunday, going 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts.
– Though he recorded his third save of the season, Joel Hanrahan gave up a solo homer to Adam Jones and a double to J.J. Hardy in the ninth inning.
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