Saturday, February 16, 2013
Today's takeaways: Who's on first?
By Gordon Edes
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Takeaways from Camp Farrell, Day 6:
Daniel Nava is getting in some work at first base this spring.
The last time Daniel Nava played first base, Red Sox manager John Farrell said, Nava was playing junior college ball in California, not long removed from the days when he was the equipment manager at the university where he ultimately played (Santa Clara), cadging quarters so he could wash the team's uniforms at a coin-operated laundry.
In 401 games over six seasons in the minors, Nava never played an inning at first. In 148 games over two seasons at Boston, Nava never played first. So why does Nava now have a first baseman's mitt in his possession, and why was he taking ground balls at first base Saturday with Lyle Overbay and Mauro Gomez?
Because the Red Sox hope to find a hybrid player who bats left-handed and can back up Mike Napoli at first base and serve as a backup outfielder. The Sox have several players who fit the profile: Overbay, the former Blue Jays regular who has bounced around to three teams in the past two years; Mitch Maier, a former No. 1 draft choice of Kansas City who washed out with the Royals; Mark Hamilton, stuck in the Cardinals' system for years behind Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman; and Nava. Overbay, Maier and Hamilton are all here as NRIs, short-hand I picked up from Hamilton that means non-roster player with an invitation to camp.
Overbay has Nava's problem in reverse. He was an outfielder in college, but the last time he played outfield was 25 games for Double-A El Paso, 12 years ago. Now Overbay is 36, and while he's willing to try the outfield, he makes the club solely as a first baseman if he is kept, forcing Ben Cherington to use another roster spot for an outfielder. Gomez bats right-handed, so he probably goes back to Pawtucket unless Mike Napoli's hip goes haywire, which would force the Sox to keep Gomez or (more likely) trade for another first baseman.
Nava has looked surprisingly deft fielding ground balls at the bag, and Farrell said the more he plays over there the better his footwork has gotten. Still, there is one unavoidable drawback to Nava playing first, though he might argue otherwise: his height. Nava is listed at 5-foot-10, which might be the product of a generous tape measure.
Farrell had a quick rejoinder when asked how big a problem having a short first baseman would be.
"As long as we throw the ball low," he said, "none whatsoever."
Tale of the tape for the other contenders, in descending order: Hamilton is listed as 6-4, Maier 6-3, Overbay 6-2 and the right-handed Gomez 6-2.
The best part about what Mike Napoli brings to first base? His bat.
Napoli is a relative novice at first base as well, which could mean some sleepless nights for Farrell while fretting about his not-so-Gold Glovers handling throws from young third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who has been known to misfire a time or two.
* Best short first baseman I ever covered: Steve Garvey of the Dodgers, who was listed at 5-10, won four Gold Gloves and set a record for consecutive errorless games at first base that was broken by Kevin Youkilis. Garvey might have been helped by the fact his third baseman, Ron Cey (The Penguin), was shorter than he was. (Cey was listed as 5-10 too, but somebody's lying). So don't write off Nava yet.
* Somebody else jumped into the first-base drills Saturday, and it looked unplanned: David Ortiz, who after cleanly fielding the first ball hit to him announced: "I still got it."
* Sign leaning on a wall near John Lackey's locker: "Cowboy Parking Only. All Others Will Be Branded."
* Cherington said he would prefer to start the season with a 12-man pitching staff. There have been times that the team has carried 13, but Cherington said it never "feels right."
*Pedro Ciriaco, whose attempt to play center field in September for Bobby Valentine was a misadventure that lasted just three innings -- misplaying two balls into doubles in that span -- will get another look in the outfield this spring, Cherington said.
* No one worked harder Saturday morning than Jonathan Diaz, who was the only second baseman paired with three shortstops -- Jose Iglesias, Xander Bogaerts and Deven Marrero -- during double-play drills. Diaz hung with them and looked like a guy who had once been rated the best defensive prospect in the Blue Jays' system before signing as an NRI with the Sox.
* Iglesias made a couple of otherworldly plays, causing more than one observer to mutter, "Please, Jose, just hit .230, OK? That'll get you to the big leagues." Has to be a bit humbling, by the way, for Iglesias not to be grouped with the regulars during drills.
* Jose De La Torre has decided that he will pitch for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. Why miss out on that experience if you're not going to make the big league club?
* Sox chairman Tom Werner comes off in an unfavorable light in "Francona: The Red Sox Years," one reason he described it as "fiction" to reporters on Friday. You get a much different appreciation for Werner by watching these fascinating interviews with Werner and his longtime TV partner, Marcy Carsey, especially regarding the fight they waged to get "The Cosby Show" on the air, making TV history. That's a fact.
* The Francona book was not seen in the clubhouse, but there were copies of another book on tables at either end of the clubhouse. The book? "The Meaning of Marriage" by Timothy Keller.
* New shortstop Stephen Drew was in the batter's box when a nasty slider from new closer Joel Hanrahan broke sharply down and in. "That's the way he always pitched me," said Drew, who faced Hanrahan regularly in the National League. "He aims for your back foot."
* The last word comes from Farrell. He was asked if he had seen Junichi Tazawa hit Jonny Gomes with a pitch during live BP (a bit of a misnomer, since most hitters just stood in the box, tracking pitches). No, Farrell said, he hadn't.