The approach Daniel Nava takes at the plate almost seems unfathomably simple.
“It’s just look for a good pitch to hit and take a good swing,” he said.
The key, though, is hiding in the unsaid.
In the process of reaching base in a career-high 37 straight games after the Red Sox’ 3-0 loss to the Tigers Monday at Fenway Park, he’s picked through pitches like fruit.
As good as Nava has been at finding the good ones, he’s skilled at passing on the bad. If he runs up an opposing pitcher’s pitch count, all the better.
“As he stays fresh, he maintains that approach,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “He doesn’t come out of that approach. He’s very disciplined. He’s going to work a count deep.”
His patience and consistency are at the core of the Red Sox’ offensive identity.
“A big part of our game is to grind out at-bats and drive up pitch counts,” Farrell said.
That selectivity is a large part of the reason why Nava is fifth in on-base percentage in the American League. After going 3 for 3 with two doubles and a walk, he’s hitting .472 with nine doubles in his past 13 games. In his first season as an everyday player, Nava is hitting .300 with 10 homers and 56 RBIs.
“Obviously it helps knowing your role,” Nava said. “It helps knowing when you’re going to play, when you’re not going to play. I’ve said it from the get-go that that allows any player — Jonny [Gomes], myself, [Mike] Carp — to get in a rhythm.
“Once you get in that rhythm, you can just come to the field and know this is when I’m going to play, this is when I’m not going to play and you’re able to lock yourself in — or get yourself locked in in the sixth inning. It’s been helpful for me and I’m sure any other player who’s in that role where a lefty or a righty’s on the mound and not playing, it allows you to get comfortable.”
He rarely wastes a swing or an at-bat. His 5.9 swinging strike percentage, according to Fan Graphs, is the Red Sox’s fourth-best behind Dustin Pedroia (4.7), Jacoby Ellsbury (5.3), and Shane Victorino (5.4). His 0.56 walk-to-strikeout ratio is the team’s third-best behind Pedroia (1.01) and David Ortiz (0.87).
“It’s huge and it’s something that he’s always done,” said Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “It’s just a matter of getting the playing time up here. Every time he’s come up, it’s been kind of play here, play there, instead of everyday like he’s been able to do.
“He sees a lot of pitches, he’s always going to put a good at-bat together. So I’m happy for him. He’s really helping. When we’re not all showing up, he shows up and helps us out.”
Even though Tigers starter Doug Fister struggled with his command, walking three batters and hitting another, the Sox were still looking for their first hit 3⅔ innings into the game.
Nava didn’t force a thing. He already had taken a four-pitch walk. When Fister fell behind 2 and 0, Nava finally saw a pitch he liked, shooting a single through the left side of the infield.
In the seventh inning when Fister started him off with a curveball for a strike, Nava jumped on the next pitch for a double to center.
With the Sox trying to rally in the ninth, Nava led off the inning with a six-pitch at-bat that ended with him sneaking a ground ball through the right side of the infield and having the presence of mind to stretch it to a double with Torii Hunter too deep in right field to get the ball back in time to make a play.
On the day, Nava found himself in hitter’s counts in all but one of his four plate appearances.
Even though the Sox weren’t able to take advantage, Nava’s approach at the plate is at the core of what they have done all season.
“I don’t think we needed to change our approach because we got the guys on and [Fister] executed his pitch when he had to,” Nava said.
“We got guys on, we just weren’t able to cash in. He was just able to get out of jams and we weren’t able to capitalize on the opportunities that we had.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.