Nava at risk, but entire outfield struggling

BOSTON -- It can be no easy thing for the Red Sox to delay activating outfielder Shane Victorino, not when the team’s outfielders are batting a collective .209 (49-of-234), which ranks them ahead of only the Houston Astros in the American League at that position.

And when Jacoby Ellsbury comes to town and doubles, triples, scores two runs and drives in two others in a 9-3 Yankees win Tuesday night, that only serves to underscore Boston’s offensive shortcomings in the outfield in the season’s first 21 games.

And yet the Sox are indeed holding off on activating Victorino, the club deciding that it is more important to add a fresh arm to the team’s overtaxed bullpen Wednesday than Victorino, who will have to wait one more day. Victorino’s skills on both sides of the ball would have been welcome after another rough night for the Sox outfield, both offensively (2-for-11) and defensively.

Grady Sizemore, who played right field for the first time Tuesday, is hitless in his last 13 at-bats, his average falling to .213. After two doubles and a home run in his first six games, Sizemore has just one extra-base hit in his last 11 games, a stretch in which he is batting .128 (5-for-39). The Red Sox may be seeing firsthand the degree of difficulty for a player to come back after an absence of two full years and limited play in the last four; Sizemore had made his long absence seem a trifle during an impressive spring training performance, but all involved knew it would become much harder when the games began to count.

Daniel Nava is batting a team-low .149, and it took two infield hits Monday to raise his average that high. Part of that has been bad luck -- his BABIP (batting average with balls in play) is a dismal .167, compared with .352 last season. That number was bound to come down, but no one expected by more than half. It appeared he might be rounding into form when he hit a couple of home runs in a four-game span, including last Tuesday in Chicago, but he was 1-for-17 with six strikeouts before his two-hit game Monday.

Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is batting .229 and striking out once every three at-bats (19 of 57). He has just 17 total bases, the lowest of any Sox player with more than 55 at-bats.

Jonny Gomes, who has been starting in Nava’s place even against right-handers, has had a couple of big hits, but he’s batting .213 and striking out at an even more alarming rate than Bradley (19 K’s in 47 at-bats).

Part-timer Mike Carp has the best numbers of all the Sox outfielders, batting .250, but that’s in just 24 at-bats.

The Sox have a roster move to make to create a spot for a reliever Wednesday, and much of the speculation has centered on Nava -- one, because of his dreadful start, and two, because he has an option remaining, meaning he does not have to clear waivers before being sent to the minors.

That would be a shocking comedown for a player whose .385 on-base average last season had Farrell talking him up as a top candidate to lead off. But after batting leadoff five times in the first seven games, Nava hasn’t been at the top of the lineup since April 7, as Farrell has employed five different leadoff men.

“He’s probably swung the bat a little bit more early in counts than we’ve seen in the past, and that might be some reflection of the current level of confidence,” Farrell said before Tuesday’s game. “When he’s squared up some balls, he hasn’t seen the fruits of that too much. Like all players, they go through a little bit of a peak and valley, and we’re trying to get him out of that right now.”

After the game, Nava was summoned to Farrell’s office for a meeting with the manager and GM Ben Cherington, always a strong indication that something is afoot. But there is a potential alternative to a demotion: Nava was wearing a large wrap around his torso, which suggests the disabled list could be another option.

“I’ve got to stay positive that the hits will start to fall,” Nava said the other day in Chicago. “My swing doesn’t feel bad; I don’t feel like I’m out front or behind. I feel like I’m where I want to be, but just the results aren’t there. It’s even more frustrating when you’re not winning. You can live with struggling when you’re winning.

“Of course, it’s challenging. Just like you want to do well in your job, I want to do well in mine. When I’m not doing what I feel I’m capable of doing, it’s frustrating.

“But in the bigger scheme, there are a lot more things than the game of baseball; that keeps things more in perspective for me. Since I’ve been all over the map with everything, I take pride in what I want to do, but it’s frustrating not doing what I want. But I’ve just got to be grateful that I’m on the Boston Red Sox. That keeps my head going straight.”