Daniel Nava: a true American success story

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Daniel Nava was the unlikeliest major leaguer in any starting lineup today. And it’s safe to say a lot of Red Sox fans were disappointed to see him starting over Jackie Bradley Jr. in left field in the Fenway Park season opener.

Nava, though, rewarded manager John Farrell’s show of faith with a homer over the Green Monster that scored all of Boston’s runs in a 3-1 victory over Baltimore. It was his second homer on the young season.

To say that Nava took a rare path to the majors would be underselling it. The kid weighed 70 pounds as a freshman in high school. He failed to make the Santa Clara University baseball team as a walk-on, settling for a gig as an equipment manager until he could no longer afford tuition and left for junior college. After a successful year of baseball at the College of San Mateo, he returned to Santa Clara, this time on a full scholarship, as a senior and hit .395.

Of course, Nava still went undrafted. He tried out for the independent Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League in 2006 and failed to make the team. Trying again in 2007, he made the team, hit .371 with 12 homers in 256 at-bats and got himself signed by the Red Sox.

After a couple of years in the minors, Nava was called up by the Red Sox and became the second major leaguer ever to hit a grand slam on the first pitch he ever saw. And then he went almost two years without another major league homer. After he hit a modest .242/.351/.360 in 161 at-bats as a rookie in 2010, the Red Sox left him in the minors for all of 2011. Summoned back last year, he hit .243/.352/.390 with six homers in 267 at-bats. This year, he made the team out of spring training for the first time and has two homers and six RBI in four games.

Now, the 30-year-old Nava is the very definition of a fringe major leaguer. For all of his hard work, he may yet find himself back in Triple-A in a couple of months. Even so, it’s incredible that he’s come this far. From 70-pound weakling to college equipment manager to indy league tryout cut to Boston Red Sox outfielder qualifies as an unprecedented path.

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For more on Nava’s background, see Brian MacPherson’s feature in the Providence Journal from 2010.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Tigers 13, Orioles 8: Leonys Martin hit a grand slam out of the leadoff spot and the two-slot hitter, Jeimer Candelario, drove in three via a two-run homer and an RBI single. They play for the Tigers, by the way. Figure a lot of you were not aware of that. Heck, outside of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos, figure most of us don’t know most of the guys on the Tigers anymore. You do know that Manny Machado plays for the Orioles. Know that he hit two homers in a losing cause. Know that, given how the Orioles are doing these days, he won’t be with the Orioles too much longer, I reckon.

Cubs 8, Cardinals 5: Chicago built an early 6-1 lead on a bunch of singles and sac flies and stuff and Jason Heyward capped the Cubs scoring with a two-run homer in the fifth. Jon Lester allowed only an unearned run over six. Every Cubs starter had at least one hit. Anthony Rizzo had three. Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez had two a piece. After the game Joe Maddon said:

“This is so much fun to watch. Keep your launch angles, keep your exit velocities, give me a good at-bat. Seeing inside the ball, using the whole field. With that you’ll see better situational hitting, better batting average. That’s just good hitting.”

Without looking, I’m going to guess that the Cubs’ eight-run outburst was, at least in part, a function of good launch angles and exit velocities. Not that Maddon would be the first person to engage in the fallacy of assuming mutual exclusivity where it does not exist.

Astros 9, Mariners 2: Charlie Morton tossed seven shutout innings, dropping his ERA down to 0.72 in his three wins. He has also struck out 33 guys in 25 innings and has walked only six. At this rate he’s going to be in a three-way race with two of his teammates — Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander — for the Cy Young. Seattle dropped three of four in the series and, as a team, went 15-for-100 against Dallas KeuchelLance McCullers Jr., Cole and Morton.

Yankees 4, Blue Jays 3: Aaron Judge homered and, while the Jays threatened late when David Robertson couldn’t find the strike zone and loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth, but he got out of the jam with only one run scoring. Judge — who a lot of you wise acres thought would struggle this year now that everyone is ready for him — is hitting .339/.481/.629 and is on a 48-homer, 152-walk pace. So, yeah.

Phillies 7, Pirates 0: OK, I think Jake Arrieta has finally finished his late spring training. Here he tossed seven shutout innings, allowing only one hit and striking out ten. Rhys Hoskins homered, Odubel Herrera singled in runs in the second and the fifth, J.P. Crawford and Cesar Hernandez knocked in runs on singles as well. More importantly, look at the photo on the top of this post and acknowledge how spiffy Philly looked in these blues. Their only fault is that teams that do this should, like the White Sox the other day, wear the blues on the road as originally intended.

Braves 12, Mets 4: Matt Wisler was called up from Triple-A to make a spot start. Guessing he’s going to get a bit more than that after allowing only two hits in seven innings. Matt Harvey, meanwhile, allowed six runs in six innings and after the game Mickey Calloway would not commit to him making his next scheduled start. He’s just not the guy he used to be. Preston Tucker drove in five with a bases loaded double and a two-run double. Kurt Suzuki had three hits and drove in three runs, including a two-run homer. The Braves offense leads the NL in runs scored. We were all expecting that heading into the season, yes?

Brewers 12, Marlins 3: It was close until the sixth, when Milwaukee put up a seven-spot. Lorenzo Cain homered, doubled twice and scored four times and Ryan Braun hit a pinch-hit, three-run homer. Those three runs gave him 1,000 RBI on his career. Lewis Brinson — who came over to the Marlins from the Brewers in the offseason trade for Christian Yelich — hit his first two career homers.

Diamondbacks 3, Giants 1: Zack Greinke held the punchless Giants to one run over seven innings, with a Brandon Belt homer being his only blemish. The Snakes got homers from Ketel Marte and A.J. Pollock. The Giants have scored only 51 runs in 18 games. That’s the lowest run total in baseball, tied with the Royals, who have only played 16 games. It ain’t 2014 anymore, is it?

Red Sox 8, Angels 2: And the Red Sox never lost again. Homers from Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi. Eight runs on 14 hits against six pitchers. A fine outing from Eduardo Rodriguez. Seven wins in a row and, heck, even though it covers the whole season, 16 of 18 for Boston.