And the Red Sox CF winner is: Sizemore
Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell announced Friday that Grady Sizemore will start in center fielder on Opening Day.
Sizemore, 31, has not played at any level in two years and has had seven surgeries since 2009. However, he passed every physical test this spring and is batting .333 with a home run in the Grapefruit League.
Rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. came into training camp as the favorite to take the starting job, but will begin the season at Triple-A Pawtucket. Bradley is batting .158 with a team-high 17 strikeouts this spring.
Farrell said Thursday night that Sizemore will bat fifth or sixth if he made the club.
“He looks very good physically,” Farrell said. “Left-handed and right-handed pitching, he had a good swing. He’s in a good place.”
Sizemore said he is OK with batting anywhere in the lineup.
“I’m happy to be in the lineup, no matter where I’m at,” he said. “I’m not going to change my approach, whether it’s leadoff or fifth or wherever.”
The Red Sox open the season Monday at the Baltimore Orioles.
Nava to lead off
The defense of the Red Sox World Series title will begin with Daniel Nava.
Manager John Farrell on Thursday anointed the left fielder with the exceptional on-base ability the team’s primary leadoff hitter, at least to start the season. That means he’ll be digging into the box first against Baltimore’s Chris Tillman on Monday when the Red Sox open the season.
Nava as leadoff hitter has been debated since the moment Jacoby Ellsbury signed with the Yankees over the winter. Working in his favor: last year’s .385 on-base percentage, good for fifth in the American League. Working against him: a lack of speed, as well as baserunning instincts that grade no better than average.
Nava sees both sides.
“I’m not trying to be Jacoby Ellsbury,” he said. “That’s safe to say. There’s only one Ells. He’s a very talented player. I’m just going to be myself. I think I’ve learned enough to know that when I’m not myself is when I get myself in trouble. I do need to be more aggressive on the bases and that’s something we’ve been working on this spring, which has been evident by getting picked off a lot.”
Nava’s not a horrible baserunner, but there’s room to improve, as he’s discussed extensively with the coaching staff this spring.
“It doesn’t mean that I have to steal 20 or 30 or even 10,” he said. “It’s just a mentality. I’m trying to be more aggressive as a baserunner, because there are things on the bases I need to get better at. I need to be more attentive of situations.
“It’s more changing the approach of what I had before to hopefully what we’re going to make in the future — a smarter, more instinctive baserunner.”
Along these lines, Nava was asked about two plays from last season — both against the Rays — that highlighted the good and bad of his baserunning.
First, the good. On May 16 in Tampa, Nava scored the winning run from first on Will Middlebrooks’ bases loaded double with the Red Sox down to their last strike against closer Fernando Rodney in a 4-3 victory.
“I didn’t know he could move that fast,” third base coach Brian Butterfield saluted that night.
“I was just hyped up on Mountain Dew,” Nava joked. “No, it’s taking that mentality and approaching every opportunity like that. I think it’s easier in times like that where you’re like, game on the line, two outs, I’ve got to get going. You never know what one run can mean.”
The flip side came on July 29 with first place on the line. The Red Sox trailed 2-1 in the eighth when Ryan Lavarnway doubled with one out and Nava pinch ran.
Stephen Drew followed with a double to right, but Nava, believing the ball could be caught, retreated toward second and had no momentum to try to score. He ended up on third and was wrongly signaled out one play later on a blown call at the plate.
No matter. The real mistake belonged to Nava.
“I learned a lesson,” Nava said. “Now I have my things I lock in on more. It was an area that I wasn’t as attentive to as I needed to be. Unfortunately, it cost us a win. We were able to win the World Series, but you never know what one win or loss can do to a season.”
It speaks to his skill set that after a winter of deliberations over the relative merits of Nava, Shane Victorino, Grady Sizemore, Jackie Bradley Jr., and even Jonny Gomes, Farrell and Co. have settled on Nava to set the table.
“We want to take advantage of Daniel’s on-base ability and what Shane does in the two-hole,” Farrell said.
Napoli homers again
Mike Napoli hit his fourth homer of spring training and Felix Doubront pitched five shutout innings as the Red Sox beat the Twins, 4-0, on Friday in Fort Myers, Fla. Doubront scattered seven hits and two walks.
Napoli homered off Phil Hughes. He also scored earlier, in the fourth, on Mike Carp’s two-out double. Xander Bogaerts singled home Carp.
Jake Peavy starts for Boston today at 1 p.m. against the Twins in Fort Myers. It is the teams’ final Grapefruit League game.