Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo prefers hitting in batting cage to on-field batting practice: ‘It keeps my swing more locked in’

If fans were allowed on the premises of the Red Sox’ Fenway South complex in Fort Myers this spring, one thing they may notice while wandering around the many backfields is that Alex Verdugo is not out there taking batting practice while other position players are.

“Here, it’s not mandatory to go outside and hit,” Sox manager Alex Cora explained on Tuesday. “[Verdugo] did everything inside. We talked about his preparation and all of that. He stays away from the field for the first few just to do his cage work and hit off the machine. It’s part of his preparation, but he’s always out there for the defensive part of it.”

On the surface, it may seem odd that the 24-year-old outfielder does not participate in on-field batting practice and prefers to take his swings in the batting cages, but it turns out he actually has a sound reason as to why that is the case.

“I don’t like to hit on the field as much,” Verdugo said when speaking with reporters via Zoom on Thursday. “I think it’s good to occasionally see where the ball’s going, see how it’s flying. I think it’s good. But, me personally, through the last few years, I’ve found that the cage just does it better for me, man. It keeps my swing more locked in. It keeps me really focused up the middle — not trying to lift, not trying to do anything — just hit a nice, consistent line drive up the middle.

Utilizing that approach, as well as the mindset that opposing pitchers are seemingly throwing harder than ever, leads Verdugo to believe that cage work does a better job of simulating the in-game experience than batting practice does.

“Especially when you have a lot of guys throwing hard nowadays, I just feel like for me, seeing some hard velo in the cage is more realistic than seeing nice, easy BP on the field and trying to lift,” the left-handed hitter said. “Obviously, I can go out there and hit on the field and keep a professional approach and do my line drives, but I just like the cage better.”

In his inaugural season with Boston after coming over from the Dodgers last February, Verdugo impressed to the tune of a .308/.367/.478 slash line to go along with six home runs, 16 doubles, and 15 RBI over 53 games played (221 plate appearances).

The former second-round draft pick managed to stay relatively healthy throughout the duration of the year, but that likely would not have been the case had the 2020 season started at time.

That being due to the fact that, upon getting traded from Los Angeles last year, Verdugo was dealing with a stress fracture in his lower back, which at the time resulted in discomfort whenever he swung a bat.

While the Arizona native may be fully recovered from that ailment now, back injuries are nothing to mess around with, especially for a player with a limited history of them.

“I think if I do cage and BP on the field, the workload starts increasing, the number of swings start increasing,” said Verdugo. “For me, it’s going to be a long year. It’s going to be a long year trying to stay healthy through the whole year. If I’m feeling locked in and I’m feeling like I’m where I need to be and cage is enough, then there’s no reason to try to push it or try to go do something just for people to see me do it. I’m getting my work in, and I know what I need to be ready for April 1.”

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts Says Alex Verdugo Is ‘Going to Be a Guy We Lean Heavy On’

Since Summer Camp workouts began at Fenway Park last Friday, Red Sox players have used the ballpark’s luxury suites as locker rooms in order to practice social distancing.

Whenever a player isn’t doing something on the field or in the concourse, you will typically find him in his suite, eating a pre-packaged meal or simply hanging out.

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts was in that scenario on Monday, and while taking in the view of Fenway from his luxury box, he also had the chance to watch new teammate Alex Verdugo take batting practice. That is something he did not have the opportunity to do in Fort Myers during the initial version of spring training because Verdugo was working his way back from a stress fracture in his lower back.

Now, after watching a healthy Verdugo in his element at the plate, Bogaerts is impressed with what he saw.

“I saw him take BP yesterday,” the two-time All-Star told reporters via Zoom on Tuesday. “He was hitting that ball pretty good, to be honest. I was watching him from the top of my suite. He came here and he was hurt and he was getting treatments so I didn’t see a lot of him while he was with us (in spring training). Obviously only with the Dodgers. But he seemed pretty good and obviously that’s going to be a guy that we lean heavy on. And he’s healthy. So the more guys that are healthy, the better.”

The centerpiece of the Mookie Betts trade with the Dodgers from February, Verdugo is hoping to see regular playing time for Boston despite being part of a crowded outfield picture that includes Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Pillar, and J.D. Martinez, to an extent.

“I want to play and I want to be a starter,” the 24-year-old said Saturday. “That’s what everybody comes into the big leagues for. That’s what everybody wants to be. So I want to play every day. But, if they want to do what they have to do, then I’ll follow and I’ll play as hard as I can.”

A left-handed hitter by trade who made his major-league debut in September 2017, Verdugo owns a career .273/.335/.448 slash line in 355 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers, and a career .306/.333/.452 slash line in 133 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. He will be the first Red Sox player to ever don the No. 99 on his uniform.