‘Naylz’ is the perfect nickname for Guardians hustler Josh Naylor

Somebody forgot to tell Josh Naylor he should not be playing baseball at such a high level less than 10 months after a gruesome leg injury put the career of the Guardians’ first baseman / right fielder in jeopardy.

Naylor was 2-for-3 on April 23 in Yankee Stadium with a two-run home run in the top of the fifth inning that gave the Guardians a 2-0 lead. They lost the game, 5-4, when New York scored twice in the bottom of the ninth.

The loss does not diminish what “Naylz” has contributed to the team since being recalled on April 15 from Columbus, where he began the season on a rehab assignment because he was not quite ready to break camp with the big-league club.

Naylor suffered a closed fracture of his right leg and a dislocated right ankle on June 27 last year when he and second baseman Ernie Clement collided chasing a fly ball at Target Field in Minneapolis. Naylor’s right foot was trapped under him when the collision occurred.

The closed fracture meant the broken bone did not puncture Naylor’s skin, but foot and ankle specialist Dr. Mark Berkowitz from the Cleveland Clinic still had to repair multiple fractures and torn ankle ligaments on July 2 when he operated on Naylor.

Naylor has played in seven games since being recalled. He is hitting .400 with two doubles and five RBI. He has struck out three times.

“He swung the bat really well, and he saw some pretty good pitching,” manager Terry Francona told reporters after the April 23 loss. “He’s obviously an emotional lift for us, but he’s swinging the bat really well.”

Naylor was part of the haul the Guardians got from the Padres when they traded starting pitcher Mike Clevinger and outfielder Greg Allen to San Diego on Aug. 31, 2020.

Infielder Owen Miller, the only Guardian (.500) with a batting average higher than Naylor’s, was also part of Cleveland’s bounty from the trade. So was starting pitcher Cal Quantrill and shortstop prospect Gabriel Arias. Ditto Guardians primary catcher Austin Hedges.

Naylor appeared in 22 games in the regular season with the Indians in 2020. He batted .277 with no home runs and two RBI – nothing special.

The 2020 postseason, brief as it was since the Indians were swept in two games by the Yankees, was a different story. Naylor was 4-for-4, two of the hits doubles, in the first game and 1-for-3 with a two-run RBI double in the second game. That is why it seemed such a head-scratching decision when acting manager Sandy Alomar Jr. lifted Naylor to send weak-hitting Jordan Luplow to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning in Game 2 with the Indians trailing, 8-6.

Luplow posted a .192 batting average in that 2020 season. He did not play in the 12-3 Game 1 playoff loss to the Yankees. Alomar’s decision to replace Naylor with Luplow defied logic. Naylor became the first player in Major League history to get five hits in his first five playoff at-bats.

Did Naylor pout? He did not. When Luplow hit a two-out, two-run double to tie the score, Naylor yelled, cheered and slammed his palm on the padding fronting the home team dugout.

When Francona says Naylor gives the Guardians an emotional lift, he means it. That image of Naylor celebrating Luplow’s clutch hit epitomizes the energy with which “Naylz” (a perfect nickname for him) plays. He was running full steam when he collided with Clement. The injury has not made him more cautious.

“I’m over it,” Naylor said. “Things happen in sports. You play hard, you get hurt. I’ll go out there and do it again – not get hurt again, but play hard and play smart again. ”

Naylor has played two games in right field and four at first base this season.

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