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No grand illusions

Nava knows his auspicious debut in the majors was an aberration

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / March 4, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Daniel Nava says the thought never occurred to him.

When he stepped to the plate with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth of yesterday’s 2-0 loss to the Phillies, Nava said he never considered reprising the magical moment of his first major league at-bat.

That came at Fenway Park last June 12 — also against the Phillies — when he became only the third player in history to hit a grand slam in his first at-bat, and the second to do it on the first pitch.

It was an uncommon display of power from a guy whose size (5 feet 10 inches, 200 pounds) is hardly the power-hitting prototype.

“I never try to hit home runs,’’ Nava said. “If it happens, then it’s nice. But I never do, because I’ve never been able to. It’s not like a natural thought that comes to my mind. Even when I take batting practice, I’m just trying to hit line drives and stuff like that.’’

There was no sense of deja vu yesterday or in Wednesday’s 6-1 loss to the Braves, when he also came up in a bases-loaded situation in his last at-bat. That time, he lofted a high fly toward right field that looked to be on a trajectory to depart the premises but became a warning-track out in the face of a gusty wind blowing in.

When Nava dug in against Phillies lefthander Juan Perez in the ninth yesterday, the crowd of 8,111 chanted, “Na-va! Na-va! Na-va!’’ in the hopes of seeing the 28-year-old from Redwood City, Calif., weave some more magic.

It wasn’t to be, however.

After fouling off six of nine pitches — including five in a row — Nava hit a pop fly to third for the second out.

“If that stuff happens, it’s great, but it’s not really about that,’’ Nava said. “At least for me, it’s about the process of seeing pitches, recognizing pitches, and taking good swings.

“If you hit the ball well, great. And if not, it’s one thing at a time. That’s how I’m looking at it. I’m not looking to try and drop bombs or anything like that.’’

After playing 60 games with Boston last year, hitting .242 with the one memorable home run, Nava finds himself in his first major league spring training camp.

“I think he was a little bit surprised when he got called up at the intensity of the games and how desperately we wanted to win,’’ said Sox manager Terry Francona. “And I think, at times, it showed just through his inexperience.

“Now, hopefully, he’s got a little better grasp of what we want to do and he can take that and couple that with good at-bats. He’s a good hitter, a solid hitter. If he can become a little bit better defensively, because he has the tools, he can make it a little bit better all-around game.’’

Nava is hoping to profit from his experience of a year ago and avoid being deemed a one-hit wonder by taking advantage of the opportunity to work with the Sox coaching staff this spring.

“He’s just a good little hitter, and he’s hit at every place he’s been,’’ said Arnie Beyeler, who managed Nava in Double A Portland last season and is now managing Triple A Pawtucket. “A big thing with him is he has a very good knowledge of the strike zone.

“He knows how to handle the zone, so he doesn’t chase a lot of stuff. He tends to get a pretty good pitch to hit in most at-bats and has had a pretty good knack of putting the fat part of the bat on the ball when he’s got it.

“It’s kind of what got him up there to where he’s at.’’

But staying in the majors will likely be a different proposition this year for Nava, as the outfield is crowded by Carl Crawford, Mike Cameron, Jacoby Ellsbury, and J.D. Drew. Then there are Darnell McDonald, Ryan Kalish, and Josh Reddick, all of whom will be competing with Nava for time.

“They’ve signed and done a great job of getting a team that’s going to be a serious contender for the playoffs and whatnot,’’ Nava said. “My job is to help in any way I can. If that means me being down in Triple A or me being up here, I’m fine with whatever.’’

While there might be a perception among fans that Nava’s job description includes bopping home runs — or even grand slams — Nava knows that’s a role better suited to players such as David Ortiz.

“I know what I can do, and at the same time I know that’s just not going to happen every time,’’ Nava said. “So there’s no point in setting that as the standard, that I’m going to get a slam every time. It’s just not possible.

“If I hit another one, great. If I don’t, so be it. I’m not too worried about that. My game isn’t stepping up to the plate and hitting home runs like Papi. It’s just seeing pitches and reacting to it. If they come, so be it.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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