Prior to last weekend, Spencer Navin never had batted leadoff in his life.
After three games there, he might not want to leave.
The sophomore catcher helped Vanderbilt snap out of a losing funk by going 7-of-13 with six RBIs and six runs scored in a three-game sweep of Rhode Island.
Igniting a fire that was lacking as the Commodores won just once in their first seven games, head coach Tim Corbin doesn’t plan to steer away from Navin at the top as Vanderbilt (4-7) takes on Belmont (6-5) at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Rose Park.
“We just needed another look,” Corbin said. “We felt like moving Tony [Kemp] to the second-hole it would allow him to tap in his game a little bit by moving runners and using his feet. Spencer, on the other hand, is a pitch-eater. He doesn’t swing out of the zone too much, doesn’t strike out too much. He is not your typical leadoff hitter but in the same token he is a guy that kind of fits the bill from the standpoint of what he does skill-wise.”
At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Navin is a much bigger option than the 5-foot-6, 160-pound Kemp. Navin also only had seven at-bats last year compared to Kemp, who had 252 and batted .329 during a Freshman All-American season.
But the right-handed Navin is doing what good leadoff hitters excel at — reaching base. In 10 starts at catcher, he leads the team with a .525 on-base percentage and a .387 batting average.
On Sunday against Rhode Island, he got on three times and drove in a career-high four runs. His breakout day started when he belted his first career home run in the bottom of the first.
“It was fun. Just to put a run up on the board and give everybody a little bit of a jumpstart, it is a good feeling,” Navin, a native of Des Moines, said. “It feels pretty good to be in the one hole. Corbin put me in the one hole to hopefully get some spark going. It has just been fun to do it.
“I’m renting that spot for sure. I know Tony is going to step up his game.”
Kemp, a Centennial High product, might have the edge in speed but struggled to get on early. He got off to a rough start, going 1-for-12 in his first three games. Since then, he has crafted an eight-game hitting streak and is batting .312 during that span.
Against Rhode Island, he batted second — marking only the fourth time in 70-plus career games hasn’t batted leadoff. He adjusted well, hitting .384 with four RBIs and four runs scored.
“I think it helped him,” Corbin said. “[With] Tony it is just a matter of time for him to get moving in the right direction, but this was a good weekend for him.”
Corbin hopes to have Kemp back in the lineup after a “carwreck” collision with the wall in left field while chasing down a fly ball. He had X-rays on his shoulder on Monday morning.
In the meantime, Navin will hold down the leadoff spot. He started the season at the other end, hitting out of the ninth spot in the season opener against Stanford.
While leadoff hitters and catchers aren’t usually synonymous, it is working for the youthful Commodores. Plus, Navin is showing he isn’t low on speed. He leads the team in extra-base hits (5) and stolen bases (2).
“He likes to run the bases. He is a pretty good runner, too,” Corbin said. “We had a kid like that, many years go, back at Clemson that was a catcher and led off four consecutive years [Burt Heffernan, who played from 1985-88]. He wasn’t your prototypical leadoff hitter. But when you got done with it you said, ‘Yeah, he is. He is a good leadoff hitter.’ ”