Alex Verdugo made a name for himself in his debut season with the Red Sox by leading the American League with seven outfield assists last year.
Just over three weeks into the 2021 campaign, and Verdugo is again showcasing not only his offensive talent, but his defensive ability as well.
The latest instance of the 24-year-old’s defensive prowess came in the fifth inning of the Sox’ eventual 6-5 victory over the Mariners on Friday night.
With two outs and one runner — Kyle Seager — on base in what at the time was a 3-2 game in favor of Boston, Mariners first baseman Evan White took a Hirokazu Sawamura splitter and scorched a 101 mph line drive off the Green Monster.
Starting in left field for Boston on Friday, Verdugo sprinted to his left at the crack of the bat, barehanded the ball on one hop, quickly turned, lined up his feet, and unleashed a missile to Rafael Devers at third that got there in plenty of time to snuff out a helpless Seager.
“That throw was amazing because probably he was feeling, ‘Let me go to second,'” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said during his postgame media availability. “But he had the presence of mind where he turned, he saw Seager right there, and he put it right on the money.”
What made the play even more impressive was that Verdugo could have just gone with a conservative approach and throw the ball back in to second base to prevent White from advancing into scoring position.
“He had the play right in front of him,” said Cora. “Sometimes runners take that for granted. But he saw it and he saw the window. I mean, it wasn’t a close play at third base. So he saw it, he trusts his arm, he’s very accurate, and he got him out.”
By nabbing Seager at third to preserve his side’s 3-2 lead, Verdugo picked up his third outfield assist of the season already.
He should have four based on what happened in the first inning Friday night, but just going back to the start of the 2020 season, no one in the American League has more outfield assists than Verdugo (10).
Verdugo, who has seen time at all three outfield spots this season, has stated before that he takes pride in his versatility and ability to play either of the three positions on any given night. He echoed that same sentiment again following Friday’s win when speaking with NESN’s Jahmai Webster.
“I pride myself with defense in all three outfield positions,” the Arizona native said. “I don’t feel like if I go to right, center, or left it’s any different. I feel like I play all three positions at a high level, and I take pride in that. I take pride in the versatility.
“Obviously, it would be nice to stick at one spot to maybe get some stuff, some awards, but at the end of the day, I do what my coach wants,” he added. “And he wants me bouncing around in the outfield, wants me at any of the three. Every day, it’s a blessing to have your name penciled in that lineup. I come out here to give it my all no matter what position, no matter where I’m at in the lineup.”
On the heels of a 3-for-5 showing at the plate in which he scored two runs on Friday, the left-handed hitting outfielder is now slashing .316/.365/.526 with three home runs, 13 RBI, and 16 runs scored through his first 20 games of the season.
Over his last seven games alone, Verdugo has posted a preposterous .440/.462/.640 slash line while primarily batting out of the two-hole.
“He’s gaining confidence in his game,” Cora said of Verdugo. “Offensively, you look up at the last at-bat, and he was up to .320, getting on base, hitting lefties… We like Alex, the way he’s playing. The fact that he can play all over the place and be really good, that’s a plus for us.”
(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)