Daniel Nava has been out of the starting lineup for six of the 10 games the Red Sox have played in the postseason, a major reduction from his playing time in the regular season.
Jonny Gomes was back in left field for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night at Fenway Park. It was his fourth start in the series.
Nava hit .303 in the regular season and started 108 games in the outfield, the third most on the team. His .831 OPS was third among all American League outfielders, thanks to a .385 on-base percentage.
Nava hit .322 with an .894 OPS against righthanded pitchers, yet he was back on the bench against Detroit righthander Max Scherzer.
Red Sox manager John Farrell said before the game that “it’s been very difficult” to sit Nava this postseason.
“He’s a good hitter and he’s been an important part of this team throughout the course of the year,” Farrell said. “We’re also at a time of the year where the environment is different. That’s not to say he doesn’t perform in this environment, but we have a different feel and a different personality on the field when Jonny’s in the lineup.
“Call it a hunch, call it whatever you might. That’s what it boils down to. It’s not easy to leave that lefthanded bat [of Nava] out of the lineup.”
Farrell’s hunch paid off in the Red Sox’ series-clinching 5-2 victory. Gomes doubled to lead off the seventh, a ball high off the wall that would have been out of most parks. Four batters later, Gomes walked home on Shane Victorino’s grand slam.
Nava was 3 for 11 in the four games he did get in; Gomes, who went 1 for 4, is 5 for 25 the postseason thus far.. But the Red Sox are 6-0 in games Gomes had started and he had contributed in some way in those games, if not always with hits.
“You’ve got to be candid, you’ve got to be truthful and honest,” Farrell said. “As is [Nava] with himself.”
The Red Sox used a fairly strict platoon for much of the season with Nava starting against righthanded pitchers and Gomes against lefthanders. But Gomes hit righthanded starters better than expected [.265 with an .889 OPS in 145 plate appearances] during the regular season.
Gomes also is a better base runner than Nava, something Farrell values.
“The smaller things, defense and base running, the way this series has unfolded, are integral and have a huge impact in the outcomes,” Farrell said.
Add Farrell to the list of managers who would like to see collisions at home plate taken out of the game.
Giants star Buster Posey suffered a season-ending injury early in 2011 when he was run over at the plate. Posey fractured his left fibula and tore ligaments in his ankle.
In Game 5 of the ALCS, Tigers catcher Alex Avila strained a knee ligament when he was run over his Red Sox counterpart, David Ross, in his second inning.
Ross took an elbow in the head from Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in that game as well. Ross and Avila both missed time with concussions this season.
“When this first came up, it really gained a lot of steam when Buster Posey got hurt,’’ Farrell said. “I’ve always tended to be on the side of tradition. But when guys are kind of an exposed target, I would be in favor of some change that would protect them. I think a lot of the injuries can be avoided.”
The possibility of a career-altering concussion is perhaps the greatest danger.
“No one wants anybody to get injured. How that ultimately gets done remains to be seen,” Farrell said. “Anything we can do to protect the well-being of a player is a good thing.”
Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli, who has caught 539 games in his career, is against a rules change.
“To me, catchers know that’s part of playing the position. I knew the consequences and I accepted that because I wanted to catch. There are good techniques you can use for those plays, too,” Napoli said. “But there are some plays when you can’t do anything. It’s going to happen.”
Napoli said that ideally a catcher could use a swipe tag — which Posey does now — or get low enough to allow the runner to roll over them.
“I thought Avila and Ross could have done a better job to not have as much contact,” Napoli said. “You can get the tag and roll. Avila saw Ross coming and he could have avoided that maybe.”
Napoli has been run over a few times and said it was his least favorite part of catching.
“I never liked it. It’s a dangerous play. But I think it would be too hard for the umpires to call those plays if they change the rule. It becomes another judgment call,” he said.
“I’m not sure what they could do to change it without really changing the game. If they make you slide, the catcher is going to sit on the plate. You can’t have that.”
Lovullo in mix
The success of the Red Sox could advance the career of bench coach Torey Lovullo. According to reports out of Chicago, the Cubs are considering him for an interview.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has a history with Lovullo. When Epstein was Red Sox general manager, he hired Lovullo to manage Triple A Pawtucket in 2010.
“To me, he’s a manager in waiting,” Farrell said. “I think he’s going to have opportunities until he ends up securing one of the jobs. He’s been integral to the success that we’ve had here. He’s a great baseball mind. The conversations and the feedback and just the insights that he gives. He’s going to be very good.”
The Cubs have not yet officially contacted the Red Sox. While Lovullo could theoretically interview on a day off, Farrell hopes the process would wait until the season is over.
“We’d like everyone to remain focused on what we have here first, this being the priority,” Farrell said. “We don’t want to get in the way of potential opportunities for someone, either.’’
Rookie of the week
Xander Bogaerts, a 21-year-old rookie, has impressed the Red Sox with his unruffled approach throughout the postseason, even after he started at third base in Game 5.
“I haven’t been around many 21-year-olds in this environment, I can’t even begin to compare what he’s demonstrating,” Farrell said. “I would hope he would be nervous inside. That would only be, I think, a natural response. But at the same time, he’s able to control it and it doesn’t take him out of his approach or how he plays the game.”
Bogaerts, Farrell said, simply smiled and nodded when Farrell told him in Detroit that he would be starting a postseason game.
“It’s been really fun to see, actually. The smile on his face never goes away,” Farrell said. “There’s never the look on his face, there’s no deer in the headlights, any kind of those descriptions you might come up with. He’s a very mature and poised young man.”
Bogaerts showed his poise again Saturday night. He walked to lead off the third, doubled with two outs in the fifth and scored the Sox’ first run. Against the 21-game winner in the seventh, the 21-year-old worked a walk, which ended Scherzer’s night, and came around on Victorino’s slam.
Enjoying the moment
Napoli said he had trouble sleeping on Friday night and was eager to get to Fenway Park once he woke up. Saturday was the 42d playoff game of his career, but Napoli said the nerves never go away. “I get butterflies still. Can’t sleep and I’m anxious to get to the park,” he said. “It’s awesome. I realize how lucky I am to have played in this many playoff games. It’s a special thing.” . . . Bill Mueller, a member of the 2004 Red Sox, threw out the first pitch to David Ortiz. Mueller now works for the Los Angeles Dodgers and has been following the Red Sox for several weeks as an advance scout preparing for a possible World Series matchup . . . Dropkick Murphys performed the national anthem before breaking into “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,” complete with fiddle players and Irish step dancers.
Red Sox relievers pitched 21 innings in the ALCS and allowed one run on 16 hits with nine walks and 16 strikeouts. For the postseason, they have allowed three runs over 32 innings . . . The Sox, counting the postseason, are 57-29 at Fenway . . . The Sox struck out 73 times in the series, the most by a team in a postseason series. The old record was 70 by the Diamondbacks in the seven-game 2001 World Series against the Yankees . . . Shane Victorino’s grand slam was his second in the postseason. He joined Jim Thome as the only players to accomplish that . . . The Sox are 6-0 in sixth games of the ALCS, 3-0 at home.