The long-running sportswriter code says that you don't root for teams, you root for stories. And with that in mind, I'll openly admit I'm pulling for Boston outfielder Daniel Nava. If he sticks with the Red Sox, they could make a movie out of this guy's life.
The unheralded 29-year-old outfielder landed in Boston last week and he's been a factor in all five games since then. Nava is off to a 7-for-12 start, with six runs, a homer, and six RBIs. And more impressively, he's been impossible to keep off base: six walks, .750 OBP. He's even been plunked by a couple of pitches. The discerning eye is something he's always had, as you can see through his minor-league career (.317/.414/.496 over six seasons).
If you've never heard of Nava, it's with good reason. There's no pedigree here, no buzzy prospect file to discuss. The 5-foot-10 switch hitter was invited to walk onto the Santa Clara baseball as a teenager but didn't make the cut - he eventually settled in as team manager. And when the price of tuition got out of reach, Nava eventually left school and settled in at a junior college.
That's when the story gets interesting: Nava blossomed at JC and eventually he made it back to Santa Clara, this time on a full athletic scholarship. Nava turned into a collegiate star but didn't get drafted, so he had to start over again in professional ball, working his way up from the absolute bottom.
When Nava made a splash playing independent league baseball in 2007, the Red Sox bought his rights for the princely sum of $1. Basically he was brought in to be an organizational player, roster depth for the minors. You don't expect this type of prospect to ever make it to the major leagues, a 25-year-old non-pedigree outfielder. He consistently produced in the bush leagues over the next few seasons (look at the slash lines, they're impressive) but Nava still didn't seem to have a legitimate MLB future. Too old, some scouts thought. Not a pro body, others concluded.
Injuries forced Nava into Boston's outfield for 60 games back in 2010. He didn't show a lick of power (other than a first-pitch grand slam in his debut) and he was reluctant to run, but his batting eye showed up (19 walks, .351 OBP). He's never been a part of Boston's preseason plans, in any year.
The Red Sox have plenty of big names on their outfield roster. If Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury weren't hurt right now - and if Boston weren't a desperate ballclub - Nava would probably still be in the minors, toiling away anonymously. Heck, the Red Sox were willing to recycle Marlon Byrd from the Cubs before they gave Nava a shot to play.
Nava's first four games came against right-handed pitching, but he stuck in the lineup Monday against lefty Jason Vargas. The production kept coming: Nava cranked a homer and walked twice. This could be a story with a very short shelf life, but Bobby Valentine doesn't have a choice: he needs to keep Nava in the lineup until the streak peters out. Heck, I don't know why Valentine doesn't let Nava lead off - an OBP machine is the perfect fit for the No. 1 slot. But if you wait around in this life for Bobby Valentine to do the smart or logical thing, you're not going to get anywhere. Let's just move on.
Nava is unowned in 97 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Again, this is a short-leash player, and someone who could be on the bench (or in the minors) by the end of the week if things don't fall his way. When a ballclub hands you uniform No. 66, they're not paying homage to Mario Lemieux: they're making a public statement about what they think of you. But perhaps Boston will some around to the value in Nava's underrated bat and keen eye, and maybe they'll keep giving him work for a while. In some deeper mixed leagues, any semi-regular on offense has value.
Your move, stat chaser. While you consider a possible addition here, we flip back to our series on the Decline of Western Civilization, Part 10: The Closer Years.
• When you add up all the events from Monday, Frank Francisco probably comes out even. On the plus side: he was given a vote of confidence from manager Terry Collins, and he nailed down New York's 3-1 victory over Milwaukee. But Francisco's outing was another shaky one, and he might not have that many lives left as the man in the ninth.
Francisco inherited a three-run lead for his assignment, so there was plenty of wiggle room. Good thing, because the Brewers quickly assembled a rally. Ryan Braun singled and stole second, and scored two batters later on Corey Hart's single. Absent-minded Aramis Ramirez (his mental error in the last of the eighth — typical for him — gave the Mets a gift insurance run) grounded out in the middle of that, and all three men hit the ball sharply.
When Tyler Green followed with a walk (on a borderline 3-2 pitch), Francisco was probably one more misstep away from being yanked. By this point Jon Rauch was throwing in the bullpen, warming furiously. But Francisco rallied and put out the fire, getting a called third strike on Brooks Conrad (why Conrad never offered at the belt-high fastball, I'll never understand) and a soft lineout from George Kotteras to end the game.
Francisco's season-long problems were evident in this appearance. He didn't seem to trust his fastball - and it sure looked hittable - and he had trouble locating his off-speed pitches. He's specifically struggled against left-handed batters this year (.361/.455/.591); maybe Milwaukee didn't have the best challenges for Francisco in this area, but other clubs will present sterner challenges. I'll be surprised if we don't see a messy landing from Francisco at some point later in the week, maybe during the weekend series at Toronto. I'm not cashing in my Rauch speculation play yet.
• When Henry Rodriguez throws strikes, almost no one can hit him (okay, except for you, Votto). When Oh Henry loses his control, you wonder how he gets anyone out.
Every Rodriguez meltdown turns into a spectacular failure of sorts, and Monday night is another case in point. Rodriguez walked the bases loaded on 21 pitches (just eight strikes) against San Diego, forcing Davey Johnson to make a change. Lefty Sean Burnett sealed the game with a tidy double-play grounder, so the Nats walked off the field happily. But Rodriguez's leash can't be particularly long right now.
Johnson has already come out and said Rodriguez is still his closer (though a Tuesday rest is imminent), and maybe the skipper deserves some of Monday's blame anyway. Rodriguez pitched in the two previous games and four of the last six entering Monday, so fatigue may have been an issue. Why tax your closer to hold a three-run lead against the Padres, of all teams? Why let Jerome Holtzman run your life like this, skip?
When you add it all up, Rodriguez has been terrible in four of his last nine appearances, dating back to Wild Pitch Palooza at Los Angeles on April 28. Be open minded to other Washington relievers, because the Nats are contenders now and they can't futz around if a closer is handing away ballgames. Assuming Tyler Clippard sticks in the eighth, we have to consider lefty Burnett (0.90 ERA, 1.00 WHIP over 10 innings) and righty Craig Stammen (1.29 ERA, 0.86 WHIP over 21 innings) as short-term closing possibilities. And with their strong numbers, they're worth owning in a lot of mixed leagues anyway. Stammen is currently owned in four percent of Yahoo! leagues, and Burnett trades at three percent.
• It's been an interesting up-and-down prospect career for Rockies lefty Christian Friedrich. He was one of those need-to-know prospects back in 2009 and 2010 (at one point Baseball America considered him the No. 33 prospect in the game), but two stalled years at Double-A Tulsa (and ERAs over 5) put a kibosh on the buzz.
Maybe it's time to get excited again. Friedrich made the jump to Triple-A this spring (after a vigorous off-season of training with Cliff Lee) and turned in five impressive starts (3.00 ERA, four walks, 27 strikeouts), prompting a call to Colorado. He's made two starts on the road in pitcher-friendly parks, posting 13 sterling innings (11 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 17 K). Have a look at the video from Monday's turn at San Francisco — I'm sure you'll be impressed.
The rookie will soon be introduced to the facts of life in the majors; he's at Coors Field this weekend (although it's against Seattle) and he'll probably work in Cincinnati after that. That's a long way from Petco Park and AT&T Park. But with the strikeout potential Friedrich possesses, we at least have to consider him in the mixed-league world. He's currently owned in a modest seven percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Speed Round: It's a good thing the Dodgers have that big lead in the NL West, because Matt Kemp (hamstring) landed on the DL. With Kemp and others out of the mix, catcher A.J. Ellis moved up to fifth in the lineup Monday. … A vision problem forced Freddie Freeman to the bench in the middle of Monday's game. Apparently it's a slight corneal abrasion, and he's listed as day-to-day. … Mark Teixeira homers, Yankees fans boo him anyway . . . Elliot Johnson is having a fun month in Tampa (.333, two homers, four steals) and is a nice short-term roto rental. You can play him at second or short. … Rickie Weeks (wrist) should be back in action Tuesday, making outs for the Brewers. … If the Angels bat Alberto Callaspo sixth, do we really have to take them seriously? The punchless Halos were blanked for the eighth time in 31 games Monday. Arcade favorite Josh Reddick homered for Oakland. … Eric Stults has been designated for assignment, over the protests of Cameron Crow and Jerry Maguire. … Bryce Harper hit his first of many big-league homers Monday. Bully for him. I still like the idea of trading him now; today is often underrated in roto leagues, tomorrow is often overrated (this is a recording). … Chris Young (shoulder) has started a rehab assignment and isn't far away from rejoining the Diamondbacks. The sooner the better — that floundering team is already 9.5 games behind the Dodgers. … The Red Sox have won four games in a row, setting things up for Josh Beckett against Seattle on Tuesday. Valentine thinks Beckett might have been tipping his pitches in the shelling last week against Cleveland, although that's the sort of coach speak that's regularly offered up when a pitcher struggles. What's the sign for a "please crush me" fastball? … Rafael Soriano closed up for the Yanks, in part because David Robertson has a sore left side. Robertson will get an MRI on Tuesday. … The White Sox had a tidy finish to their 7-5 victory over Detroit: Hector Santiago worked the seventh, Matt Thornton pitched the eighth, and Addison Reed was on for the ninth. It's encouraging to see Reed get a key assignment one day after his six-run meltdown. But just when you think you have a read on this club, Robin Ventura breaks out the 12-to-6 curveball. My endorsement, with some trepidation, remains with Reed for now.