BOSTON -- The Red Sox have demoted outfielder Daniel Nava after just 75 plate appearances, manager John Farrell said, in the hope that he will regain the form that made him such a valued part of last season's World Series championship team.
"His struggles at the plate, I think, are evident," Farrell said of Nava, who was sent to Triple-A Pawtucket on Wednesday to make room for reliever Alex Wilson, a stop-gap addition to the Red Sox bullpen. "We're trying to get him back to being the player of confidence we've seen in the past."
Nava, who had an option remaining and thus did not require passing through waivers to be demoted, was 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.
"As you might expect, he was disappointed," Farrell said. "Can't say it was disbelief, but there was a disappointing message to deliver, given his role last year and the contributions. But in combination with our need for another reliever, while not liking it or deep down agreeing with it, he accepted it."
It appeared Nava 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. He had a brief audition as the Red Sox leadoff man, but Farrell pulled the plug on that April 7 after Nava was just 3-for-20 (.150). A switch-hitter, Nava was batting just .121 (4-for-33) with two strikes and .095 (2-for-21) against lefties.
"We feel like there needs to be a more consistent two-strike approach," Farrell said. "We felt like there were times he tried to hit with a little bit too much power rather than a hitter of average who will hit an occasional home run. And he needs to get some work on the right side of the plate."
Asked how much it may be a matter of confidence for Nava, Farrell said, "Not just Daniel, but players' confidence ebbs and flows. We've got to get a guy back who was pivotal to our success a year ago, especially from the left side of the plate. It's going to take some time and at-bats to do just that."
Unless Farrell is forced to lean heavily on his bullpen again Wednesday night, Wilson's stay is expected to be a one-night event. The Sox plan to activate outfielder Shane Victorino, who has yet to play in 2014 because of a strained right hamstring, for Thursday's game. Victorino has played in three games on a rehab assignment in Pawtucket, going 1-for-11. He was in the Sox clubhouse before Wednesday's game.
Wilson is needed to bolster a taxed Red Sox bullpen that has pitched 20 1/3 innings in the last five games, including 11 in the last two, with neither Clay Buchholz nor Jon Lester able to last five innings. The Red Sox were originally planning on activating Victorino on Wednesday.
Rookie Jackie Bradley Jr., who had not made the team out of camp but was added to the roster when Victorino was injured, appears to have cemented his hold on the team's center-field position. That job belonged to Grady Sizemore on Opening Day, but Sizemore has made only one of his last nine starts in center field. Sizemore, who had played center field almost exclusively in his years with the Cleveland Indians, is more comfortable there, Farrell said, but his role has changed here.
"We see him more as a corner outfielder than a center fielder at this point, so we're doing what we can to shorten down that curve and be more efficient," Farrell said.
Nava was not the only Red Sox outfielder struggling at the plate in the season's first month. Collectively, Sox outfielders are batting .209 (49-of-234), which ranks them ahead of only the Houston Astros (.186) in the American League at that position.
Sizemore, who has played right field in two of the last three games, is hitless in his last 13 at-bats, his average falling to .213. After having 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). Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury robbed him of a hit Tuesday night with a diving catch.
"When he's squared up some balls, whether it was Chicago or last night, the ball hasn't traveled to what we might expect, whether it's the cold air or wind," Farrell said. "Jake makes a heck of a diving play on him last night.
"We're not seeing an abnormal amount of swing and miss. The bat speed is there. Not a whole lot of bottom line results with the approach taken. I don't see him coming out of an approach or trying to do more than he's capable."
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.
"We have to keep in mind that he's a guy now starting to compile a number of at-bats here with a large gap from his last regular playing time," Farrell said, "but I don't see anything from a mechanical standpoint that is a flaw."
Bradley 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 Red Sox outfielders, batting .250, but that's in just 24 at-bats.
Nava's demotion is 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.
"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."