LOS ANGELES -- Alex Verdugo again was a game changer on Saturday, which is why he’s become such a plan changer for the Dodgers.
Verdugo’s second home run of the day was an 11th-inning blast into the Colorado bullpen that gave the Dodgers a 5-4 win at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers became the first team in Major League history to win consecutive games on a rookie’s walk-off homer, according to Elias Sports.
Matt Beaty won the series opener Friday with a blast in the bottom of the ninth. At 53-25, the Dodgers are off to their second-best start in franchise history (54-24 in 1974).
Befitting his unabashed personality, Verdugo finished his home-run trot by passing his batting helmet with a cross-over between his knees -- a tribute to college basketball, he explained.
“I was in the moment,” said Verdugo, who had four hits. “Obviously, you dream about these type of days. For it to become reality, it’s special and fun.”
His teammates repeated the on-field celebration they unleashed on Beaty one game earlier.
“This guy loves the big moment,” said manager Dave Roberts. “He doesn’t run from it. He wants to be the guy that gets showered with Gatorade.”
Verdugo doubled as a promising pitcher in high school but was drafted as a hitter and has excelled with the bat at every level, so his .303 batting average isn’t a total shock. But he has launched seven home runs, and power has not been a big part of his game. In five Minor League seasons, he never hit more than 13. He’s on pace to better that at the highest level there is.
“The more I’m around guys and seeing pitchers, you just take your chances and pick your spots in certain counts and give it a go,” Verdugo explained. “Just try to hit a line drive, that’s when I hit home runs. When I try to, I pop out or get out in front of off-speed pitches.”
Perhaps Dodgers management would have been satisfied for Verdugo to be a serviceable platoon player as a rookie, but he’s now shown he’s much more than that. As a result, with center fielder A.J. Pollock returning from surgery after the All-Star break, the Dodgers have hurriedly experimented with Joc Pederson at first base because Verdugo is looking like an everyday player.
The experiment with Pederson, like most experiments, is not without failures. He bobbled a throw in this game that allowed an extra run to score and was one of three infield misplays by the Dodgers that made a mess of a Hyun-Jin Ryu start. Fill-in shortstop Chris Taylor dropped a throw for an error, and second baseman Max Muncy was unable to field Verdugo’s one-hop throw to second base as Ian Desmond stretched a single into a double that led to a first-inning run.
“We didn’t play a good game today,” said Roberts. “We didn’t catch the ball. We just gave them extra outs. Hyun-Jin limited damage, didn’t get frustrated. It wasn’t a well-played game for us, but to win those games says a lot about those guys in the room.”
And in the room are rookies like Verdugo and Beaty. The former is a second-round pick with high expectations, the latter a 12th-rounder from a small college who singled home the tying run in the eighth inning Saturday and is 9-for-18 with runners in scoring position.
“Beaty, me, a lot of our guys, we’ve all done it growing up and going through our Minor League system,” said Verdugo. “Now, you guys are just seeing it. Matt Beaty can really swing it. You guys are getting a taste of what our offense is really like.
“I’ll keep saying it: One through nine, we grind at-bats and don’t give anything away. We make pitchers work. This team, we’re nasty.”
Things got so sideways that Ryu actually walked a batter for only the sixth time this year and the first time this month. He left after six innings with five strikeouts and three runs allowed. Only one was earned, however, so Ryu’s MLB-leading ERA barely moved to 1.27.