Verdugo on the mound? Hey, it could happen

October 8th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- sees what Shohei Ohtani is doing a coast away, the Angels superstar enjoying success as a two-way player that likely will earn him an American League MVP Award. The Red Sox outfielder thinks: why not me?

Indeed, who’s to say it can’t happen? Verdugo’s immediate focus is on helping the Red Sox as they battle the Rays in the AL Division Series, but the 25-year-old would love an opportunity to show Boston what he can do on the mound.

“I don’t know if I’ll pitch next year, but definitely by 2023, I want to try to just be a two-way [player],” Verdugo said on Friday. “Not an Ohtani, where he is starting and all that. I just want to be a reliever. Come in, help the boys out, something like that.”

Verdugo’s dream, first voiced publicly in Spring Training 2020, has registered with Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

Cora said that Verdugo recently told him that he would like to visit the Driveline Baseball complex in Kent, Wash., this offseason to dust off his repertoire, last used at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Ariz.

“He feels he can throw 97, 98 [mph],” Cora said. “We’re like, ‘No, you’re not doing that. [Verdugo is] actually getting better physically, and you have to take care of yourself and be ready for Spring Training.”

Acquired in the blockbuster Feb. 2020 Mookie Betts/David Price trade with the Dodgers, Verdugo arrived in Boston still recovering from a stress fracture in his back; he would not have been ready if the ’20 season started on time.

In 2021, Verdugo posted a .289/.351/.426 slash line in 146 games, collecting 32 doubles, 13 homers and 63 RBIs.

“He’s a joy to manage,” Cora said. “He is a great kid. He is very passionate about it, and he knows himself offensively. He knows his swing, he knows his checkpoints. He makes adjustments on the fly.”

And there would be arguably no more remarkable shift than transitioning into a reliever.

“I know I’ve got a ways to go, but give me a year or so to build up my arm strength, long-toss and all that,” Verdugo said. “Make sure the arm can handle the hard throws, and hey, a couple of blowout games -- let me go out there and pitch. If my stuff is good, if I’m getting swing-and-miss, why not run with it?

“If it’s flat, average and not getting the job done, then hey, at least I said I tried it.”

Verdugo said he last pitched in high school; as a senior in 2013-14, he was 4-3 with a 2.26 ERA in 10 games (nine starts), striking out 93 batters against 31 walks in 52 2/3 innings.

His pitching numbers were even better as a junior. Verdugo was 10-0 with a 1.29 ERA in 14 games (nine starts), striking out 130 against 29 walks in 65 innings.

MaxPreps rated Verdugo as the fifth-best left-handed pitching prospect in the 2014 MLB Draft (ahead of Justus Sheffield, now in the Majors with the Mariners), but there’s a massive jump from dismantling high school lineups to big league success.

“If we’re being real, hopefully I’ll sit low-to-mid 90s [with the fastball] and then if I’ve got to reach back angry or something, we can get [97 mph],” Verdugo said. “I had a curveball, slider and then I also threw a knuckle-curve, so that would be my repertoire. I would have to play around. I don’t think the curveball would be as good because I lost some of the sticky [stuff], but I think it would be fun to try.”