Red Sox' Nava Takes On All Comers
FORT MYERS, FLA.—John Lackey seemed to shrug off the home run that he allowed in a minor league camp game to Daniel Nava this spring. But the pitcher's cavalier attitude belied the sordid truth about Nava's opposite-field rocket on a fastball up in the zone.
"We have a history," Nava explained earnestly, before breaking into laughter.
The 27-year-old wasn't seeing the former Angels' ace for the first time. Near the start of the 2008 season, when Lackey was on a rehab assignment with high Class A Rancho Cucamonga, he had faced Nava's Lancaster JetHawks twice.
In the second game, Nava doubled down the right-field line. In his next at-bat, Lackey hit the switch-hitter with a pitch in the knee and yelled at him while he was heading to first. And so, Nava—now in the same organization as Lackey—finally got a chance to enact his revenge. Not that he treated it as such.
"Blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while," Nava said. "Afterwards, I got a ball in my locker that said, 'Don't you ever do that again.' (Lackey) signed it. It was a joke."
Of far more serious note is the unusual path being traveled by Nava. He was undrafted out of Santa Clara and spent a year in the independent Golden Baseball League before the Sox purchased his contract in January 2008.
Since entering the Red Sox system, he has put up consistently excellent numbers, albeit against much younger competition.
He started his minor league career in the hitter's haven of Lancaster, winning the California League batting title with a .341/.424/.523 line. After missing the first two months of the 2009 season with an oblique injury, he showed no rust upon his return, hitting .352/.458/.533 and reaching Double-A Portland.
"This guy, all he's done is hit since we've gotten him," Sox farm director Mike Hazen said. "It's a pretty consistent approach from both sides of the plate with a little bit of power."
Nava, who was competing for a job in Triple-A in spring training, does not hide from the fact that his performance has been helped because he has been old for his level. At the same time, because he has excelled at each stop of his brief minor league career, the notion that he could one day end up in the majors is becoming more real.
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