LOS ANGELES -- One of the subplots to this offseason for the Dodgers is what to make of Alex Verdugo.
At the Children’s Holiday Party at Dodger Stadium last month, the outfielder said his “goal” is to be ready for Opening Day, certainly leaving open the possibility that he won’t. He suffered a back/oblique/core injury that cost him the final two months of the regular season and the Dodgers’ National League Division Series loss to the Nationals.
Verdugo went on to say that as he continues to rehab, he has not resumed any baseball activities. Maybe that’s why the Dodgers haven’t dealt Verdugo or Joc Pederson from a position where the Dodgers have a surplus. Club officials say there is no concern with the 23-year-old’s health long term, but initially nobody thought his injury was this serious.
“I think anybody that’s had something wrong with your back would understand,” Verdugo said. “Any activity you do, your back helps a lot. It’s a lot of frustration, but all I can do is stay positive. I’m going in the right direction. My goal is going to be starting Opening Day. We’ll just see how the days and weeks go and how I recover.”
Barring a game-changing outfield acquisition, the Dodgers will need to shuffle what they have. The working assumption is that MVP Cody Bellinger, who won a Gold Glove as a first baseman playing right field, is most likely to start in center, as he did in all five postseason games.
A healthy Verdugo could start in right or left field. Without him, A.J. Pollock, who was moved from center field to left field in the middle of the season as his defensive metrics slipped, could wind up in left or right field as well for what the club hopes will be a bounce-back season. That would leave Pederson, Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernández, followed by Matt Beaty (who also plays the infield corners), Kyle Garlick and DJ Peters competing for playing time as well.
The Dodgers have been vague about Verdugo’s specific diagnosis, which has included lower back soreness and a right oblique strain. Manager Dave Roberts said Verdugo first felt back discomfort after playing on the artificial surface at Tropicana Field against the Rays in late May. He was batting .311 with an .869 OPS at the time, having replaced the injured Pollock in center field.
He continued to play through the discomfort, but his production dropped off noticeably from mid-July on, when he finished 11-for-53 (.208) with one home run and one RBI before going on the injured list on Aug. 6 with what was listed as a right oblique strain. After rehabbing in Arizona, Verdugo seemed to be nearing a return when he suffered a setback during a Minor League rehab assignment with Ogden.
“Rehab is going good,” Verdugo said. “It’s just really about stacking together really good days. Keep testing it, incorporating more workouts in my routine. It’s about how I recover and come back the next day. If I’m sore, what am I feeling? We’re on a good pace right now with what we’re trying to do.”