Nava remains in the swing as Sox beat Blue Jays
TORONTO - The Red Sox gave up on Daniel Nava last season, dropping him off the 40-man roster in May.
Nava was hitting .192 for Triple A Pawtucket at the time and went unclaimed when the Sox placed him on waivers.
“It doesn’t get any worse,’’ he said.
Nava returned to Pawtucket and showed improvement but did not impress new general manager Ben Cherington enough to merit an invitation to spring training with the major league team this year.
“I could understand it,’’ Nava said. “It wasn’t like my world was crushed. I was realistic where I stood.’’
Being ignored somehow proved liberating. Free of even modest expectations, Nava started to hit again and forced his way back onto the roster when injuries decimated the outfield.
Now the player the Sox didn’t need is one they can’t live without. Nava had four more hits on Friday night to help the Red Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 7-2.
Clay Buchholz pitched eight strong innings as the Sox moved into a tie for fourth place in the American League East with the Blue Jays at 27-25. The Sox have won four of their last five and 15 of their last 21.
Nava has started and played every inning of the last 22 games, his arrival coinciding with the team’s turnaround. The left fielder is hitting .314 with a .987 OPS and 16 RBIs.
“God-dang,’’ manager Bobby Valentine said. “He just hits the ball where they weren’t and hit it hard and worked the count. He looks like as good a hitter as you want. Every at-bat he takes pitches that are balls and takes full swings at pitches that are strikes. That’s a good combination.’’
Nava doubled and scored in the third inning, singled and scored in the sixth, doubled in a run in the seventh before scoring, then had another double in the ninth.
“He has been great. Nava has been playing unbelievable and we need that,’’ said David Ortiz, who homered and drove in two runs. Adrian Gonzalez added three hits - two of them doubles - and two RBIs.
Valentine said Nava has the ability to recognize the location of pitches quickly and decide whether to swing. That enables him to go deep into counts and take confident swings. He saw 22 pitches on Friday.
“Am I surprised? I’m absolutely amazed,’’ Valentine said.
Buchholz said Nava is a different player than the one who hit .242 for the Sox over 60 games in 2010.
“For him to get sent down and then taken off the roster, it put something underneath him to let him realize that this stuff isn’t easy and it’s hard to stay here,’’ he said.
Buchholz (5-2) has undergone his own transformation this season. He had a 9.09 earned run average in his first six starts but is at 3.98 in his five outings since and methodically is becoming a front-line starter who can be counted on.
“He was teetering there and he was searching’’ Valentine said.
The change has been regaining command of his changeup, the offspeed pitch making Buchholz’s fastball that much better. Facing the Jays helped on Friday. Buchholz has won six consecutive starts against Toronto and is 8-3 with a 2.55 ERA in 13 career appearances.
“In a way that makes it harder because I don’t want to screw up,’’ he said.
Buchholz’s most important inning might have been the first.
Kelly Johnson reached on catcher’s interference before an error by shortstop Mike Aviles put Yunel Escobar on.
Buchholz fell behind Jose Bautista, 3 and 0, before coming back to strike him out swinging at a 94-m.p.h. fastball. Buchholz then got Edwin Encarnacion to ground into a double play that was started by Aviles.
“Big, man. That’s the time [Bautista] rises to the occasion and hits a homer or hits a double and clears the bags,’’ Buchholz said. “That was big, even in the first inning. That was a steppingstone to get to the next inning and go out there with a little bit of confidence.’’
Escobar had a solo home run to left field in the third inning and David Cooper one the same way in the seventh. Beyond that, Buchholz was untouched. The eight innings were a season high.
Toronto righthander Henderson Alvarez, a 23-year-old from Venezuela, had faced the Red Sox twice in his career and allowed one earned run over 12 innings.
This time, the Sox scored four runs on eight hits over 6 1/3 innings against him as Alvarez fell to 3-5.
The big inning was the seventh. Up, 3-1, the Sox scored four runs with two outs.
Ryan Sweeney led off with his 16th double of the season. Alvarez struck out Aviles then left the game.
Lefthander Luis Perez got Nick Punto on a ground ball to third, Scott Podsednik then came through with a single up the middle that scored Sweeney.
Nava then collected his third hit of the night, a double to right-center. Podsednik, running on two outs, scored easily. The lead grew to 6-1 when Gonzalez had his third hit, a single to center.
Ortiz was next and he lined a single to right field, scoring Gonzalez.
Feeling frisky, Ortiz took a wide turn around first and was late getting back. He was thrown out to end the inning. The crowd of 29,678 had taken to booing the home team at that point.