Alex Verdugo shows how exciting next generation of Red Sox could be

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John Tomase
·4 min read
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Tomase: Verdugo shows how exciting next generation of Sox could be originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Lip reading is imprecise, but as Alex Verdugo pumped his fist and pounded his chest after Thursday's game-tying double vs. the Twins, he looked to be screaming, "LET'S DO THIS! THIS IS WHAT WE DO!"

If any player captures the essence of the surprising never-say-die Red Sox, it's Verdugo. The centerpiece of the Mookie Betts trade hasn't once tried to play like Betts, because he knows it's impossible. Instead, he's content to be Alex Verdugo, and the Red Sox are loving every second of it.

In Wednesday's doubleheader sweep, Verdugo made a diving catch to end the opener, and then blasted a mammoth home run in the nightcap. On Tuesday, he strung together a 10-pitch at-bat with the bases loaded and the Red Sox trailing 3-0 before promptly unloading them by ripping a Taylor Rogers fastball into the left field corner.

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Though the Red Sox lost in the ninth, Verdugo's at-bat against the nasty left-hander served as a bigger takeaway than the final result. He spit on a pair of two-strike offerings just inches off the plate and fouled off four others before getting one he could handle. Even in defeat, he summed up the team's relentless approach.

"It's going to take all the way to the ninth inning and that last out," he said.

That's the vibe Verdugo exhibited from second base, where his celebration was pure, unadulterated emotion. He colorfully compared his state of mind to being locked in on Adderall.

"That's probably what I would feel like right there," he said. "I was zoned in, locked in."

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A more calculating player probably wouldn't invoke a stimulant that has led to suspensions, but Verdugo isn't big on filters, and it's part of what makes him the headliner of this next generation of Red Sox players.

He provides personality to a team that desperately needs it, and it's not hard to envision him fitting right in with Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, and the rest of 2004's Idiots, who probably would've cuffed him around like their little brother.

The beauty of Verdugo, however, is that his surface presentation of tattoos, gold chains, and a perpetual grin belies the seriousness with which he treats his craft.

Verdugo refused to hit outside in spring training until he had cemented his swing in the cage. He knew if he took the field too soon, he'd aim for the fences and create bad habits.

Last July, when the Red Sox were preparing to open the truncated 2020 season with spring training 2.0 at Fenway Park, Verdugo found himself rolling over to second base repeatedly during scrimmages. At one point he ran out to right field and fired his glove into the fence in frustration. He did so with only a couple of TV stations on hand in an otherwise empty ballpark, so his frustration wasn't performative. He couldn't stand the idea of not playing to his capabilities, even in that setting.

When this season began, Verdugo needed a weekend to find his bearings, much like the rest of the team. He went 0 for 11 while being swept by the Orioles, but since then he has exploded, hitting .351 with two homers, 11 RBIs, and a 1.067 OPS.

He has done it his way, too, with a spray chart befitting his all-fields approach: two hits to right field, two to left, and everything else between the gaps. He's not interested in home runs unless the opportunity presents itself, such as the left-on-left 90 mph fastball over the inner third that he ripped over 400 feet on a line on Wednesday.

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This success was not preordained. Imagine the discipline it takes to be traded for a former MVP and not try to match him. Verdugo will never be Betts, who's a 30-30 Gold Glover, but he could certainly be an All-Star.

Just 24 years old, he should still be producing when Betts enters his early-30s decline with the Dodgers (which, to be fair, could be three more World Series titles from now).

As the Red Sox prepared to return home to face the White Sox this weekend, Verdugo was asked about facing one of the best starting pitching staffs in the American League, which includes Carlos Rodon, who just no-hit the Indians.

May his answer end up on t-shirts, because this is what the Red Sox do:

"They've got some guys," Verdugo said, "but at the end of the day, we bang."