Daniel Nava continues to work on hitting from the left side of theplate against lefty pitchers. (Rob Bradford/WEEI.com photo)
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Thursday, the Red Sox let Daniel Nava hit left-handed against southpaw reliever Dana Eveland. Saturday, he was in a group that went against another lefty, Tommy Layne.
It’s all part of the process. Where it ends up, Nava has no idea. But he figures this is a good a time as any to at least take a few steps down the path toward hitting exclusively from the left side.
“We’re just seeing if lefty-lefty can be a viable option,” said the switch-hitting outfielder. “There’s only one way to find out, give it a shot.
“Obviously, it’s an adjustment because I’ve never done lefty-lefty and something you’ve never done before is going to be an adjustment period but i’d like to think I can do it based on my approach and not trying to pull the ball, remains to be seen.”
Nava explained in the offseason he had been considering the move for some time, with his splits slanting dramatically in the favor of his work as a lefty hitter. Last year, for example, he hit .293 as a left-handed batter, compared to .159 from the right side.
Red Sox manager John Farrell and Nava said after their team’s Saturday workout that the organization had started conversations with the outfielder about a possible alteration at the end of the 2014 season.
‘I think it was because last year I struggled from the right side,” Nava explained. “The year before it was all right but last year was a tough year so we thought it was worth a shot.”
He does insist, however, that just because you’ll be seeing him hit left-handed against lefty pitching in spring training (a practice he hasn’t experienced since Little League), that doesn’t mean Nava has dug in on not switch-hitting.
He still has to figure out if this is exactly the best road to go down.
“Just arm angle, way ball comes out, and the way ball moves,” he said regarding the differences he’s noticing when hitting lefty-on-lefty. “Those are things once I get out there ‘ i’ve talked to a lot of guys. I’ve talked to [former major league switch-hitter who changed to just one side of the plate] J.T. Snow as well, as you know he did it. He gave me what he did, as somebody who has walked that road. I’ll try to see what they did and hope that it works.”
FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was a relatively long day for Red Sox players at Fenway South Saturday. First, there was a Major League Baseball-sponsored domestic abuse eduction meeting. Then came a morning and early-afternoon chock full of drills and activity.
Perhaps the most notable endeavor was pitchers vs. batters showdown. It was the first such occasion that didn’t include the hitters simply tracking pitches.
It was nothing elaborate, with Justin Masterson, for example, throwing 25 fastballs before exiting off the mound. (Pablo Sandoval did take the righty deep on one of the offerings.)
But there were a couple of takeaways that seemed to stand out.
Most notably were the hitters reaction to Joe Kelly’s stuff. The righty starter left an impression on the hitters he faced, which included Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Sandoval.
“He’s around the plate, throwing strikes, good curveball and slider. I know it’s still early, but he looked really good today,” Napoli said. “I’ve faced him before during the year. I know what the stuff’s like. He’s just got good arm action, ball comes out of his hand well. He’s good. The ball moves all over the place. He’s just ahead of everyone else right now.
“He has a really good fastball. He just needs to be able to locate it. He’s got a good curveball and changeup. Of the five starters, he might have the best stuff of everybody. He’s just got to put it together.”
So what does Kelly have to do to attain his self-proclaimed goal of winning the American League Cy Young Award?
While Kelly did show flashes of excellence as a starter when getting the chance with the Cardinals in 2013 — going 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA in 15 starts — he has to show it over the long haul, having never pitched more than 126 innings.
“Being a little bit more efficient,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “I think we saw a guy with power stuff. To be a little bit more refined with his command overall should keep him ahead in the count and maybe have hitters hit in more defensive counts. There were times last year a four-pitch walk would be mixed in. As he evolves as a pitcher and knows the consistency required, the focus and concentration will to that pitch count being a little bit more in line with the innings. Hopefully that extends him deeper into individual outings.”
Catching the group of pitchers that included Masterson, Kelly and newly-acquired lefty reliever Robbie Ross Jr., was Christian Vazquez.
While Vazquez has left his mark on previous spring trainings thanks to his throwing arm, this time around all the talk has been regarding an above-aveage ability to control the strike zone. It was a talent that was evident in Saturday’s workout.
“It’s special. It is that special. I haven’t seen too many catchers catch the ball as good as he does,” said Red Sox catching instructor Dana Levangie. ”
“There’s a lot that goes into it. Obviously he’s come a long way when he first got here. Just like when we got Jason [Varitek]. Jason came a long way from the time we got him. He grew a whole bunch. That’s having patience with your catcher. But, fundamentally, he is beyond his years. It’s pretty cool. But there are always things for him to work on and get better at.”
– The Red Sox also worked on some skills not necessarily involving throwing or hitting. For example, bench coach Torey Lovullo brought groups over to practice sliding, emphasizing keeping the front foot down on the bag so that the player isn’t popping up on their bag leg.
Along with some agility drills, a collection of players participated in running the 40-yard dash. An informal survey put Mookie Betts as the fastest of those participating, clocking in at 4.7. (Jemile Weeks, who is running Sunday, said he ran a 4.5 as a freshman in high school.)
– Asked about the protocol when it comes to using electronics (TV shows, iPads, etc.) before a game, Farrell explained, “We talk about that. Prior to 6:30, everything is shut off. The only thing that is running on TV at that time is the opposing pitcher that night, and that’s all part of the individual’s preparation to lead them into game-time. I think if you see the number of guys who are in our cage and in our dugout long in advance of the first pitch thrown, I think that speaks pretty clear to that.”
Representatives of Major League Baseball met with Red Sox coaches this morning to review rules changes for the 2015 season, and one of them dealt with the much-discussed pace of play adjustment requiring batters to keep one foot in the box at all times.
According to Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, that rule will be interpreted more liberally than first reported.
“It’s not going to be a drastic change,” Lovullo said. “What they’re trying to avoid is the long-term delays where guys are into their routine and doing things outside their preparation. We know hitters are trying to slow the game down, but if it crosses the line, the umpires are going to call it to the attention of the batter.”
So where is the line? There’s more leeway than you might think.
“If there’s consistent abuse, they’re going to say hey, we’ve got to address this,” Lovullo said. “If it’s a pitch that’s taken, called strike or ball, that’s when they want to keep you around the batter’s box. But if you take a swing, or there’s some activity, or a pick(off) of some sort, and you step out of the box and get into your routine, that’s OK.
“I think they want to avoid the guys who get a called a strike, raise their hand, step out of the box, walk around a little bit. That was my interpretation, that they’re trying to get people to stay engaged in that area, but not take away from the routine.
“We have to keep in mind, these players are taught to slow the game down. That ball is moving by them very quickly. I don’t think they want to take that away.”
When the Red Sox open their Grapefruit League schedule next week, they’ll break in the new clock between innings that counts down from 2:25 during local broadcasts and 2:45 during national ones.
“That clock starts when that out in the previous half inning is recorded,” manager John Farrell said. “And when a reliever comes out of the bullpen, as soon as he touches the warning track, that’s when the 2:25 clock starts. Basically it’s standardizing the amount of time allowed.”
The most scrutinized rule is going to be the batter’s box one, though, and Farrell said it’s only there to curb the most egregious offenses.
“Regardless of if a guy is in or out of the box, there’s a natural flow to his at-bat,” Farrell said. “In this case, if his back foot remains in the box and he steps out to adjust the batting glove or to regroup from the previous pitch, I think that’s all within reason. What they want to avoid is the guys walking around behind the catcher out of the batter’s box after a pitch is taken.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred responded to Ortiz’s comments, and the new rules in general on Friday when speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston.
Ortiz said during his press conference that he didn’t feel the players were given much input in the changes. Manfred said the MLB Players Association as a whole worked together with the league on it, and he added he doesn’t “foresee the kind of problems” that Ortiz does.
“I think that, across the unit, across the bargaining unit, we will get really good cooperation on pace of game,” Manfred said. “We made the agreement with their certified bargaining representative, and I don’t foresee the kind of problems that Mr. Ortiz does.”
Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (via Twitter on Thursday) reported the first violation of the new rules would result in a warning followed by the next four being different increments of fines. Rosenthal added there was a possibility of even suspending players if they continue to show “willful disregard” of the rules.
Manfred doesn’t expect to see this action used, at least this season.
“I think that we’re going to work into the pace-of-game rules and you’re not going to see that type of disciplinary action at the outset,” said Manfred.
The Commissioner also said he contacted the union after hearing Ortiz’s comments earlier in the week.
“I’ve had a conversation with his bargaining representative about it,” Manfred said. “I’m sure they’ll reach out to him. I expect at the end of the day we’ll get cooperation there as well.”
Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli spent two years in Texas with Josh Hamilton when the outfielder was at the height of his powers. He knows what a tremendous talent Hamilton is on the field, which made the news about Hamilton’s looming suspension ‘ reportedly for a drug relapse involving cocaine and alcohol ‘ all the more sad.
“It’s unfortunate, man. It’s just tough,” Napoli said. “A lot of people deal with things in different ways. Obviously there’s something wrong where he keeps relapsing, but it’s sad. I feel for him and his family. I just wish him the best and hope that he gets better.”
Hamilton had been one of the feel-good stories of baseball, a former No. 1 overall pick who drank and drugged his way of the game before a renaissance in Texas from 2008-12. Since signing with the Angels before the 2013 season, however, Hamilton’s star has burned less bright, and his latest transgression is sure to earn him a lengthy suspension.
Napoli doesn’t remember Hamilton struggling to stay on the straight and narrow in Texas.
“It just seemed like he was living his normal life,” he said. “It was never talked about. We were just regular people. We weren’t talking about what he used to do or whatever. When I was there, he had (accountability partner) Johnny Narron, who took care of him and stuff on the road. There was never any sense that he was going to relapse and go down that path.”
Napoli recalls the Rangers altering their celebrations en route to the World Series in 2011 to accommodate Hamilton’s lifestyle.
“We celebrated with ginger ale, and then he’d leave and we’d all celebrate (with champagne),” Napoli said.
In the end, Napoli hopes his former teammate can find himself again and overcome his addictions.
“Some people just have that personality, where they just feel like they need it,” he said. “It’s hard. I feel for him. I hope he gets on the right path to get back to being a star baseball player, because when he’s right and healthy and on the right path, he’s another league above this as a talent. It’s sad.”