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Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Sox to take a look at Nava in center

By Gordon Edes

TAMPA, Fla. -- Greetings from George M. Steinbrenner Field, where Red Sox manager John Farrell said Tuesday morning he didn’t want to invite speculation by mentioning that the Sox will look at Daniel Nava in center field before the end of camp, but knows it will be unavoidable.

The only reason the Red Sox would want to see Nava in center is if they intend to open the season with Grady Sizemore in center field while keeping Shane Victorino in right field as much as possible. That creates the need for another outfielder who can spell Sizemore in center. Rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. is an obvious candidate, of course, but if Sizemore wins the every-day job, there is strong sentiment in the Sox organization that Bradley would be better-served to play on a daily basis in Triple-A Pawtucket.

When Farrell was asked if he could envision a scenario in which Victorino was the only true center fielder on the roster who could back up Sizemore, the manager answered in the affirmative.

“We’d also want to get some exposure with somebody else out there just to take a look while we have an opportunity,’’ Farrell said.

Asked if he intended to see Nava in a major league game in center before camp ends March 29, Farrell said: “There could be both the minor league side, major league side. Honestly, I didn’t want to rush into that because of the speculation driven from it.’’

Sizemore’s play has caused the Sox to consider combinations that did not exist when camp opened. He is batting .381 and came out of Monday’s game, in which he had three hits and made two terrific catches, feeling no ill aftereffects, the manager said. Sizemore will play center field in a minor league game Wednesday afternoon, then start Thursday night against the Yankees in JetBlue Park.

Nava came to the big leagues as a below-average left fielder, but has worked hard on improving his defense to the point that Farrell had confidence in playing him in right field last season when Victorino was out with hamstring and back injuries. Playing right field in Fenway Park is often likened to playing center field in other parks, but it remains to be seen whether the Sox would consider Nava a viable option in center field.

On days that Sizemore could not play center, Farrell could also move Victorino to center and have Nava in right, with a platoon of Mike Carp and Jonny Gomes in left. But it is clear from Farrell’s comments that the Sox want to keep Victorino in right as much as possible.

“We’ve had a couple of conversations,’’ Farrell said in regard to speaking with Victorino about playing center, “but didn’t want to get into anything. We still feel like before camp is out, we want to get him some repetitions in center field. But he’s aware and it remains consistent, our intention is to keep him in right field as much as possible, and he’s fully on board with that.

“There might be a time in any given game where he might end up in center field for a couple or three innings, a pinch-hit situation. I don’t have an answer yet because it’s based on what our final roster will look like.’’

And if it turns out Victorino will have to play more center field than the occasional midgame fill-in?

“Based on our offseason conversations and those of spring training,’’ Farrell said, “Shane’s a baseball player. He’s fully confident he can play both positions equally well, so he’s open to whatever we feel is best on any given day.’’

The Sox have 13 days before the March 31 regular-season opener, which will give them a better read than they presently have on whether Sizemore is truly a viable option to open the season as their center fielder. But he has passed every test to date, and the debate could shift from who will win the job to what is the best landing spot for Bradley.

The rookie started in center field Tuesday and made a nice running catch at the wall, and he grounded out sharply and doubled to the gap in his first two at-bats.