Alex Verdugo Left Out of Red Sox’ Opening Day Lineup; Outfielder Reassured Ron Roenicke That He ‘Hits Left-Handers Well’

As he is about to embark on his first season with his new team, Alex Verdugo will not be starting for the Red Sox on Opening Day.

With left-hander Tommy Milone getting the start for Baltimore opposite Nathan Eovaldi on Friday night, the 24-year-old outfielder was left out of the Sox’ starting lineup by manager Ron Roenicke in favor of right-handed hitting outfielder Kevin Pillar.

When speaking with reporters prior to Friday’s season opener against the Orioles at Fenway Park, Roenicke addressed this decision, saying that he called Verdugo earlier in the day to let him know that he was not starting against the left-handed starter.

“He reassured me that he does hit left-handers well,” Roenicke said via Zoom in regards to Verdugo’s response. As a reverse splits guy, that is indeed true for the left-handed hitter.

In 106 games played for the Dodgers last season, the Arizona native racked up 109 plate appearances against southpaws. Over the course of those 109 PAs, he slashed .327/.358/.485 with two home runs, nine RBI, and a 121 wRC+. Against right-handed pitching, his OPS dropped by 36 points and his wRC+ dropped by 10 points over 268 plate appearances.

Earlier this month, Verdugo insisted that he wanted to be an everyday player with the Red Sox, but he also acknowledged that he could start the season in a platoon role with his new team.

“I want to play and I want to be a starter,” he said during one of his Summer Camp media sessions. “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.”

Perhaps we’ll see Verdugo make his first start with the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon, when right-hander Alex Cobb will be taking the mound for the O’s.

 

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.