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Verdugo progressing; Weber makes starter case

Moreland motors for triple; Wong launches grand slam
@IanMBrowne
February 25, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Though it would be a surprise for Alex Verdugo to return from the stress fracture in his back in time for Opening Day, the Red Sox anticipate being able to see their new acquisition perform in Spring Training games.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Though it would be a surprise for Alex Verdugo to return from the stress fracture in his back in time for Opening Day, the Red Sox anticipate being able to see their new acquisition perform in Spring Training games.

“I would say that we start getting into the middle of March, he’s got a chance to play some games,” said interim manager Ron Roenicke. “I think he does, yeah, depending on how fast he comes along with his swinging. He’s doing really well. We just haven’t asked him to swing a bat yet.”

Verdugo has been passing every test the training staff has given him each day, which is all the Red Sox can ask for at this point.

“I would think so. I know the running for sure has,” Roenicke said. “The first time they had him out running outside was way better than what they thought [it would be].

“I think he’s coming along quicker in those areas. I think we’re just cautious on what the rotation can do in a swing. I really haven’t asked. I don’t know if that depends on whether he takes an image and the image shows that it’s healed completely. I’m not sure.”

Simple things excite Verdugo these days -- like when he was allowed to start throwing again.

“Just to feel it coming out of my hand and seeing the ball and getting back to baseball stuff, it’s nice, it really is,” Verdugo said. “It’s a game that I love playing and it makes me happy. When I’m out there doing stuff like that, it brings a little bit of happiness. It brings a little joy.

“You’re like, ‘We’re almost there. It’s coming.’ Now it’s, ‘Let’s not push too fast.’ Let’s not act like I’m feeling too good today and overdo it. We’re going to keep me going the right way progressing slowly, but at least we’re going up, up, up.”

Weber starts case
Ryan Weber, one of the many candidates the Sox are looking at as a fifth starter, made a strong opening impression on Tuesday in a 12-4 win over the split-squad Orioles.

The righty allowed two hits (one was a broken-bat job), no runs and no walks while striking out one. Weber is a throwback in today’s game in that he doesn’t rely on velocity. His fastball tops out in the high 80s.

“Weber, you know what you’re going to get right away,” said Roenicke. “If he is commanding the ball, he throws a lot of strikes. They make quick outs, he’s fun to watch. I know he gets in trouble when his command isn’t on. But he knows how to pitch. He’s got a great mix. The ball is moving around everywhere and I enjoy it because it’s just, here it is, guys, right at him and sometimes he goes right through them and sometimes he gets hit.”

The 29-year-old has spent most of his time in the Minor Leagues since the Braves took him in the 22nd round of the 2009 Draft. He made 18 appearances for the Red Sox last season, including three starts, notching a 5.09 ERA. Team evaluators think that he can be a useful Major League swingman with a couple of tweaks.

After coming to camp as a non-roster invitee last year, Weber is pleased to be on the 40-man this time -- particularly after an offseason in which chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom made a big batch of moves on the roster.

“Just knowing that they have the confidence in me puts a lot of accountability on me, which I really like,” Weber said. “I’m not just another depth piece to them, I think. It makes every pitch really, really matter at this point.

Motoring Mitch
First baseman Mitch Moreland brings a lot of things to the table to the Red Sox, but turning on the jets around the bases isn’t one of them.

His manager and teammates got a kick out of watching him speed into third on a leadoff triple in the fourth on Tuesday.

For perspective, Moreland had just one triple all of last season. Though Moreland somehow had four of them in 2018 -- the only time he ever had more than one in a season -- he had zero from '15-17.

Given the injuries Moreland has sustained in recent years, the Red Sox would just as soon see him hit doubles or homers. But there was no harm from this three-bagger.

“Speedy Mitch is right,” quipped Roenicke. “He was pretty good [from] home to about halfway to second, then he had a little slowdown because he was hoping he didn’t have to go to third, and then the play wasn’t being made and he knew, ‘I’ve just got to go.’ So he sped up again.”

Wong’s slam
Catcher Connor Wong is currently known as “the other player” in the blockbuster trade with the Dodgers that also brought over Verdugo and Jeter Downs in exchange for Mookie Betts and David Price.

But on Tuesday, Wong made his presence felt by unloading for a grand slam over the replica Green Monster. Though Wong is likely to spend this season in the Minor Leagues, the Red Sox like what they see in the catcher.

“What a nice swing,” Roenicke said. “Good offensive player. He’s got a lot of power. Batting practice, I stand out there and balls really jump off his bat. If he can continue to progress as a catcher, he’s real calm back there, has really good hands, has a strong arm. I think it’s just a matter of keeping him back there. Hopefully everything kind of cleans up. This guy can be a really nice player.”

Up next
Lefty Martín Pérez, signed as a free agent in December, makes his first start in a Red Sox uniform on Wednesday in Bradenton against the Pirates. Starting infielders Michael Chavis and José Peraza will be in the starting lineup. Speedy outfield prospect Jarren Duran will also see action. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET, live on MLB.TV.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.