Every time Daniel Nava starts at first base, he is presented with a fresh learning opportunity, each ending with him feeling more comfortable and confident than the last.
Nava didn’t play the position as a professional until spring training this year. In Sunday night’s 9-6 loss to the Yankees, Nava made his seventh start at first, and 15th appearance there overall.
“I’m feeling more comfortable,” Nava said. “If I’d have been playing first every day of the season until now, I’d be like, ‘Yeah, I’m great.’ But since it’s been sporadic, the more I play, the more I would feel comfortable. I’m still far more comfortable than the very first spring training game, but I still know I have a ways to go in order to be where I’d like to be.”
Mike Napoli, who was scratched from Saturday’s game because of plantar fasciitis, was out of the lineup again Sunday night, prompting manager John Farrell to turn to Nava.
In Saturday’s 6-1 win, with righthander Hiroki Kuroda on the mound, Mike Carp played first base and Nava played left field. But against lefthanded CC Sabathia Sunday night, Jonny Gomes was in left field with the switch-hitting Nava at first base.
Nava has made only one error in 61 chances at first base after a clean sheet Sunday.
“When we approached the first base thing in spring training, I had no idea it would be this flexible and this much of an advantage for us,” Farrell said before Sunday’s game. “It’s turned out very well.”
Nava’s ability to play first base has also helped keep his bat in the lineup. Nava was hitless in two at-bats Sunday, although he drew a bases-loaded walk. He had two doubles on Saturday and since returning from paternity leave Aug. 8 Nava has nine hits in 22 at-bats.
In a similar situation Thursday, Nava started at first base in Toronto and had three hits, including two doubles, off lefthanders.
“He’s filled a number of roles,” Farrell said. “With [Napoli] being down, the next righthanded bat is his. He responded well against [Toronto’s Mark] Buehrle the other night.
“But he provides a lot of in-game flexibility as well. If we have a pinch-hit situation with either Mike Carp or Jonny we can shift him back and forth from outfield to first base.”
Although Nava had success against Buehrle, he has been stronger from the left side of the plate this season. Nava is hitting .308 against righthanders, and .242 against lefthanders.
But just as he is getting more comfortable playing first base, he is getting equally relaxed from the right side of the plate.
“If I were able to get consistent at-bats from the right, I’d like to think I’d feel more comfortable,” Nava said. “Now, who knows what the results will be? But I know the situation is Jonny is here to face lefties and that’s totally fine. I know my role.”
According to Farrell, Napoli is day-to-day and will be evaluated before the team’s six-game West Coast trip, which starts Monday in San Francisco and ends Sunday in Los Angeles.
Whether Nava or Carp is starting at first base or in the outfield, both are comfortable with their roles.
“It’s been my job all year,” Carp said. “I’ve been working hard to get those opportunities and hoping those opportunities do come my way and when they do, I can succeed and help the team anyway I can.”