This week in Dead Red: Tim Wakefield passed a milestone, Dustin Pedroia is hitting again, the Sox unveiled a statue of Red Sox legends outside Fenway Park, and Sox catcher Victor Martinez remained hot at the plate. But first, following in the footsteps of Darnell “Mac” McDonald, another Triple-A call-up made an unexpected but explosive debut over the weekend.
I say Daniel Nava. You say, “who?” Here’s a kid who was told he’d never make it to pro ball. He was cut as a walk-on from his original college team at Santa Clara University, then resorted to being the team’s equipment manager. After graduation, he went undrafted and still trying to live the dream, played with the Chico Outlaws from the independent Golden Baseball League. He was cut after a tryout but then later made it to fill a roster spot.
In 2007, after finally getting a chance to play, he batted .371, hit 12 homers and had a whopping 1.100 OPS. This earned him the distinction of being named the independent league’s #1 prospect as rated by Baseball America. Seeing that, Red Sox assistant director of professional scouting Jared Porter signed him for a $1 with the promise to pay the Outlaws $1,500 if the Sox kept him after spring training in 2008.
In his short, four-year minor and independent league career, the 27-year-old switch-hitter (and natural lefty with good patience at the plate) batted .342 and hit well everywhere the Sox organization sent him, most recently in Pawtucket where he was hitting .294, with a .364 OBP, 8 HR and 38 RBI. And with Adrian Beltre not only rupturing opposing pitching but crushing teammates’ ribs (via freak on-field collisions, first Jacoby Ellsbury and now Jeremy Hermida, who is on the DL until late June), Francona needed to call up an (unknown) outfielder from the PawSox, and Nava was the lucky one to get that call over this past weekend.
Before a nationally televised game on Fox late Saturday afternoon, as Nava got ready to play Fenway’s short left field for the first time, Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka didn’t feel right during warm-ups and just minutes before the game started, was put on the 15-day DL with a right forearm strain, forcing the manager to call up a fresh arm, pitcher Dustin Richardson as the game was getting started. Scott Atchison got the emergency start and gave up a couple of runs to the Phillies early.
Then, a nervous Nava, who before stepping into the on deck circle was told by Francona to not worry about where his parents were in the Fenway stands and to “just get a hit, kid” did more than that.
The first pitch he saw in the second inning from the arm of Joe Blanton was crushed for a grand slam. It marked the fourth time a rookie got a grand slam in his first at-bat and only the second time accomplished on the first pitch. A curtain call rightly ensued. He went on to go 4 for 8, with two doubles and an RBI single between the rest of Saturday’s game and Sunday’s, when the Sox lost 5-3 for its only loss to the Phillies in the three-game series, and started in left field both games.
The Sox should feel so lucky to have this kind of instant success from reserves and minor leaguers, in Nava, McDonald and before he got hurt, Hermida, with everyday starters like Ellsbury and Cameron battling injuries all year. Or, credit Sox player development (Mike Hazen) and others for spotting this talent and knowing when they are ready to contribute to the big club.
As Francona put it today during an interview on WEEI radio in Boston, he’s “riding the Nava wave.” Tonight in Boston’s first game of the home series against Arizona, with Clay Buchholz, who is 5-1 with a 1.45 ERA in his last six starts, facing Ian Kennedy, he is again a starter and now batting lead-off for the first time.
The Teammates, In Stone
The next (or first) time you head to Fenway Park, you will see a statue of Sox players of old outside of Gate B that was unveiled last week. All good friends when they were playing together over a half-century ago, they are Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, and Dom DiMaggio (Joe’s brother), otherwise known as “The Teammates.”
Wakefield Rockets Past Clemens
A week ago today in Cleveland, not only did Tim Wakefield earn his second win of 2010 in going 7 1/3 IP, he passed Roger Clemens as the all-time franchise leader leader in innings pitched (2,777). If/when he reaches the 2,800 IP mark this season, he will join an exclusive club of only 40 other pitchers to pitch that many for one team, including Jack Morris for the Tigers, Phil Niekro, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine for the Braves, and Whitey Ford, one of only two Yankees to do so (the other being Red Ruffing).
Pedroia Snapping Out of It
Cole Hamels was the only Phillies starter over the weekend to get out of the early innings, and he pretty much shut down the Sox offense on Sunday, unlike Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton who respectively led the Phillies to 12-2 and 10-2 losses to the BoSox Friday and Saturday. But Dustin Pedroia finally snapped out of his prolonged slump this past week and got three hits Sunday afternoon, making him 8 for his last 17 at bats and raising his average from a season-low .248 to .263 through June 13. At the same time his hitting is getting better, his formerly achy right knee is feeling better nowadays as well.
A note has to be made that for those who think Pedroia’s recent struggles are unlike him and not something experienced since his 2007 rookie year, here’s a refresher for you. In 2008, he went through a near month-long funk almost exactly like he did from this mid-May to almost mid-June. That season, his slump lasted from May 18 (BA .307) to June 13 (BA of .260) before seeing it climb up to .300 for good by the end of June 2008. He would finish at .326 and win the AL MVP award.
V-Mart Locked In
Catcher Victor Martinez has hits in 10 of his 11 games in June, for a total of 20 hits already (five of them against his old Cleveland team last week). That goes with 10 RBI and an impressive .476 batting average for the month in games through June 13 – the Sox had yesterday off. With his season average now over .300 (.301 to be exact) and his home run total – currently at 8 – approaching double digits after hitting six of them in May, V-Mart is again starting to be that dynamic heart of the lineup force he is expected to be.