They had grand similarities
Duo’s first home runs were slams
Apart from their contributions since being promoted this month, Daniel Nava and Will Middlebrooks have shared one interesting career highlight: When each hit their first major league home run, it was a grand slam.
Middlebrooks hit a game-tying blast in a 9-6 loss to Baltimore in 17 innings May 6.
“Yeah, but his was on the first pitch [of his career],’’ Middlebrooks said, marveling at Nava’s slam, which came June 12, 2010, against Philadelphia.
“If anything, the joke is that he’s hit more since then and I haven’t,’’ Nava said.
That was before Nava hit his first homer of 2012, a two-run shot that gave the Red Sox a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning of Boston’s 6-1 win over the Mariners.
It snapped a stretch of 171 at-bats between homers for Nava.
“Yeah, it was kind of a long time,’’ said Nava, a switch hitter who homered from the right side of the plate off Seattle lefthander Jason Vargas.
“I’m just glad that I hit more than one,’’ Nava said. “Because a couple of years ago [Kelly Shoppach] was with the Rays and I stepped up to the box and he goes, ‘Hey! You’re that guy who hit that home run on the first pitch,’ and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘You really haven’t done much since then,’ so I started laughing. I couldn’t really say anything to that.
“So when I hit that one I was like, ‘Thank God, I’m not going to have just one,’ that’s all I was thinking about.’’
Middlebrooks and Nava combined to go 4 for 5 with 6 runs scored, 5 RBIs, 1 home run, and 2 doubles in a 12-1 romp Sunday over the Indians.
“Daniel and Brooksie have just taken hold of the game,’’ said Sox manager Bobby Valentine. “They gave us those extra innings that we have a chance to be really a threat. I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far, how can you not?’’
So what’s been the common denominator to their success?
“I think for us, we came here and I was told that we don’t have to be anything you’re not,’’ said Nava, who was called up May 10 when Clayton Mortensen was optioned to Pawtucket. “You don’t have to be a savior, you don’t do anything like that because there are a lot of veteran hitters in this lineup.
“We don’t have to do anything other than, I guess, what got us here and that’s a great feeling,’’ Nava said. “The game is hard as it is and it’s simple when you can step in the box and just be yourself. When Will is being himself he can hit bombs, he can hit doubles, he can hit singles.
“Me? I just try to be myself and hit the ball.’’
Youkilis progressing Kevin Youkilis, on the disabled list with a lower back strain since May 2, continued his rehab work, taking ground balls and swings in the batting cage.
“He looked pretty good taking ground balls today, I wouldn’t think he’s very far away,’’ Valentine said. “He looked really good moving around.’’
Asked if he anticipated having Youkilis for the road trip to Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, Valentine said, “I would have no idea. Whenever the medical [staff] and Kevin say he’s ready . . . but, in my eyes, taking some ground balls, he looked good fielding and throwing.’’
Ellsbury looking good Jacoby Ellsbury continued to make progress in his recovery from a right shoulder subluxation suffered in the home opener April 13.
“He looked good in the weight room and he looks good in the training room, now I haven’t seen him in the “Field of Dreams’’ out there, where it’s all green and he looks so natural,’’ Valentine said. “He hasn’t had any setbacks and he has almost full range of motion and his strength is building, so it’s all good. His agility and his cardio, he’s worked really hard on those things with his legs.’’
Asked if Ellsbury’s healing process ruled out surgery, Valentine said, “I’d be surprised [if he needed it]. I’ve never had that conversation with anyone - asking it or hearing it, from the training room or from Jacoby.’’
New spin on rotation Jon Lester’s complete-game victory Monday night was the lastest in four consecutive solid outings from the rotation. Now it will be Josh Beckett’s turn when the righthander (2-4, 5.97 ERA) takes the mound against righthander Blake Beavan (1-3, 4.32). Asked how he anticipated Beckett would handle this start, given all the criticism he’s faced since his last start, Valentine said, “Just what Josh said. He said he’s ready for Seattle, he feels great and he’ll be on the Hill of Thrills to give us some thrills, I think.’’ Beckett’s start Tuesday will coincide with a pregame ceremony recognizing recently retired knuckleballer Tim Wakefield . . . Monday night’s game was a tidy 2 hours and 25 minutes, marking the third straight game the Red Sox have played in 2:37 or less. It’s the first time they’ve done that since June 4-5, 2003 in Pittsburgh . . . Given the recent performance of the bullpen, which has led the majors since April 23 with a 1.41 ERA and 76 2/3 innings, Valentine said, “I have great confidence in my players and what I try to do is put them in situations where they can succeed in and it seems like the situations are expanding for most of the guys. They’re not being limited by a platoon situation or by runners on base, or even some history guys have had with some hitters that they’re facing. It seems like they’re trying to bust right through any barriers and that’s a good thing.’’ . . . The Consulate General of Japan presented the Red Sox with a cherry tree in recognition of the 100th anniversary of Fenway’s inaugural season . . . The Boston College men’s ice hockey team, which won the 2012 NCAA championship, was recognized during a pregame ceremony. Eagles coach Jerry York, asked if he was prepared to throw out the first pitch, shook his head no and pointed toward departing senior captain Tommy Cross, now property of the Bruins. “I’m going to have the All-American do it,’’ York said. “I don’t want to one-hop it.’’ Asked if he was going to go with his fastball or breaking stuff, Cross replied, “Heat.’’ . . . Valentine celebrated his 62d birthday Sunday. Asked how he spent it, he said: “I did it with a lot of friends, isn’t that what you do? Eat dinner, drink some wine, cut the cake, tell some lies. The North End treated me well.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.