PAWTUCKET — It’s common to see a number of Pawtucket Red Sox hitters shuffle in and out of the indoor batting tunnel – located a stone’s throw away from the home clubhouse at McCoy Stadium – prior to heading outside for more hitting and on-field work.
This time-tested practice was once again on full display Thursday afternoon, as Bryce Brentz, Alex Hassan, and others chose to take full advantage of the early work services offered by hitting coach Dave Joppie. Daniel Nava was also among the participants, which wasn’t at all shocking.
It wasn’t also shocking to find out that Nava was the last player in the tunnel with Joppie. The pair appeared to be having an open and honest discussion behind closed doors, one that continued upon the short walk back to the clubhouse.
To come back down and work with a familiar face, it’s an advantage that Nava went as far as to say is an ace in the hole for him. Nava and Joppie have a pre-existing working relationship that dates back to the 2009 season when they were both based in Double-A Portland. That season saw Nava hit .364 and collect 15 extra base hits in 32 games.
“He knows what we used to do, and if something wasn’t working, we would try to get it back to where we would like to be more consistent,” said Nava prior to the PawSox taking the field against the Indianapolis Indians. “It helps a lot having someone who has been in that role for me before.”
According to Nava, his recent conversations with Joppie have had little to do with the low major-league batting average he brought with him to the minors.
“We’re always talking about stuff we did in the past. Not even this situation, but even in spring training, he’s reminding me or the other hitters about what we used to do with him,” Nava explained. “He does a good job of applying and talking about things that you can take to the field. I think that’s something that’s unique because not every hitting coach has that ability. He’s able to communicate that way.”
Such an approach speaks volumes about the high regard that Joppie has for all of his pupils.
“He definitely puts his hitters first and foremost. I think he understands his role and the hitters understand their role in terms of ‘he’s there if you need him,’” Nava concurred. “Whether it’s this year or in the past, he would say that he had stuff, but only when you’re good and ready to come and talk. He’s very locked in and doesn’t take a hitter off.”
Instead of re-acquainting himself with his PawSox surroundings following last week’s demotion, Nava elected to hit the ground running and get back in the swing of things with Joppie.
“He obviously remembers the things we did in the past, but I told him if he saw anything, just let me know. I’m not here to be above anything that he tells me. That’s pointless because I’m here to get better,” said Nava. “If he has something that’s going to help, I’d love to hear it.
“He let a couple of games go by, but then we started talking about things that sometimes as a hitter you lose sight of,” Nava continued. “He never gets complacent.”
Asked if Joppie has provided him with any refreshing pointers or tips, Nava responded, “In general, you hear this a lot, but sometimes simplifying is very important for any position player. You can complicate the game, so we’re just looking to simplify matters and not overcomplicate them. I’ve done that in the past.
“From our talks, we’re focusing on one thing at a time. We’re simplifying baseball and not working on this mechanical thing or that. Step in the box, see the ball, hit the ball, and that’s pretty much it,” Nava delved further.
Thursday was Nava’s sixth game with the PawSox. He drew his second starting nod in center field, and to date, has been swinging a productive bat, hitting .333 in five Triple-A games.
“I’ve had a lot of fun. These guys are great guys. I have no other way to look it other than trying to come down and get better,” said Nava. “There’s no timetable and I understand that. I’m just enjoying the process.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03