April 06, 2017
CINCINNATI – Seven years ago, Daniel Nava dug his spikes into the dirt in the batter’s box at Fenway Park with the bases loaded, no one out, and his team trailing by a run against Joe Blanton and the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Red Sox rookie turned and burned a Blanton offering, sending the ball over Jayson Werth’s head and into the Boston bullpen. On the first pitch of his first major league at-bat, Nava ripped a grand slam.
Nava’s Phillies debut on Wednesday afternoon in Cincinnati was nearly as impressive. He went 2-for-3 with a walk and home runs in each of his first two plate appearances.
But another former Red Sox spoiled Nava’s performance on getaway day at Great American Ball Park. Clay Buchholz blew a three-run lead in a laborious fourth inning, when he allowed each of the first four batters to reach base safely, and Adam Morgan surrendered a go-ahead home run to an opposing relief pitcher as the Phils fell 7-4 in the rubber game of the season-opening series.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, the 32-year-old Buchholz looked a lot like the veteran pitcher who struggled in six games this spring (6.65 ERA, 1.66 WHIP) and for most of last season in Boston than the former prospect who has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his see-saw career, too.
"It could have gone a lot better," Buchholz said. "It could have gone a lot worse in a couple of situations."
But with diminished stuff, Buchholz's margin for error is slim when he takes the mound. His average fastball came in at 90-MPH on Wednesday.
"I threw 97, 98 when I came up," Buchholz said. "You can miss a little bit more often whenever your velocity is up there like that. When you're trying to sink and cut and use off-speed pitches to keep them off-balance, you have to make good pitches. These guys are getting paid to hit. They're going to hit mistakes."
Despite an uneven performance in spring training and an unimpressive Phillies debut against the Reds, Buchholz will get more opportunity to have success. The Phillies didn't take on his $13.5 million to make any rash decisions in early April.
"He looked better than he looked in the spring, let's put it that way," Mackanin said. "He’s a finesse guy right now. He can be effective. Kind of in the same way that Jeremy Hellickson is. But you have to have that real good command when you pitch like that."
Buchholz lasted five innings and allowed at least one baserunner in each of those innings against the lowly Reds. After Nava’s first home run gave him a 1-0 lead before he took the mound on Wednesday, Buchholz nearly gave it right back, surrendering a leadoff double in the second before a sacrifice fly tied the game later in the inning.
Nava gave his former Red Sox and current Phillies teammate the lead again in the third inning. But, again, Buchholz couldn’t hold it for more than three outs.
Adam Duvall (single), Eugenio Suarez (single), and Scott Schebler (walk) all reached base to begin the Reds’ rally in the fourth, and scored, too, to tie the game.
In the sixth, Cincinnati reliever Michael Lorenzen ripped an Adam Morgan pitch into the left field seats. The go-ahead homer was the second of Lorenzen’s career, perhaps not as memorable as his first but it certainly got the job done, giving the home team the series win.
"It never sits well when you give up a home run, but I kind of did it to myself," Morgan said of the 3-1 fastball. "I fell behind. It only can go up from here."
The Phillies return home tonight where they'll host the Washington Nationals at 3 p.m. in the home opener at Citizens Bank Park on Friday.
When he connected on home runs in each of his first two at-bats, Daniel Nava became the first Phillies player to homer in his first two plate appearances with the team since Jeremy Giambi on May 25, 2002.
Since he also homered in his first plate appearance with Boston seven years ago (again, in his MLB debut) it was worth asking Nava if he had a thing for homering in his first game with a new team. Did he do the same in college? In high school?
“I hit one home run in high school,” Nava said. “And that was over a three-foot fence. Senior year of high school was the first time. Yeah, I wasn't a big guy at all."
Nava is a week removed from being a non-roster player competing for one of two jobs on the Phillies bench. After an injury-plagued 2016 season, and losing 10-15 pounds this offseason to get into better condition, Nava is hoping for a far more productive 2017.
“It makes a lot of the work that I did this offseason, a little more rewarding, a little sweeter," he said. "That’s a good incentive to keep doing what I’ve been doing...It’s rewarding to contribute. That’s for sure.”
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