The Red Sox called up Daniel Nava one month ago Sunday. Surrounded by reporters that day for his standard "How does it feel to be back?" scrum, he gave the requisite replies.
"Whatever they need," he said. "If today was to sit on the bench and pinch hit or sit on the bench and not play, then so be it."
How about this, Daniel?
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Can you become our new leadoff hitter? Can you become the team leader in OPS (entering Saturday, at least)? Can you draw walks at a rate such that only David Ortiz has more on the team after your first month? Can you play stellar defense?
If that is "whatever they need," then Nava has succeeded in a big way. His all-around, outstanding play altered the picture in the Red Sox outfield, so much so that when it came time to drop an outfielder to make room on the roster for Daisuke Matsuzaka, Nava was not even a consideration. The decision came down to Marlon Byrd, an 11-year veteran and one-time All-Star who was hitting .270, or Darnell McDonald, a bench fixture and clubhouse favorite since 2010.
Byrd was designated for assignment Saturday as Nava hit leadoff for the seventh time. He went 0-for-4 but again played a solid left field, an unheralded aspect of Nava's improved play. His full-tilt catch toward the line in the first inning Saturday was one of many he has made on the run and his four assists were tied for second among American League left fielders entering Sunday. Others on the leaderboard were regulars long before Nava came up.
It is not a stretch to say that Nava has provided more in his one month of 2012 than Carl Crawford did in any one-month span of 2011.
Most everyone knows Nava's story. Fails to make team at Santa Clara. Becomes equipment manager. Enrolls in junior college. Becomes an All-American. Wins scholarship at Santa Clara. Earns All-WCC honors. Goes undrafted. Signs with independent Chico Outlaws. Cut by Outlaws. Re-signs with Outlaws. Hits .371. Bought by Red Sox for $1. Rises to majors in less than three seasons. Hits grand slam on first pitch he ever sees in the majors.
The next two years have been split between Pawtucket and Boston. Nava has been a fringe player providing outfield depth in the system. When the big club needs 12 outfielders to get through the first two months of the season due to an unreal rash of injuries, fringe players get their shot. Nava, despite his initial expectations to just "sit on the bench" and do "whatever they need," has made the most of his.
Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Cody Ross will all return at some point. Nava may become a fringe player in the system once again. At the very least, as evidenced by the Byrd/McDonald situation, he has moved up the ladder a bit, continuing a career-long trend of exceeding expectations.
Perhaps even his own.