FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For many weeks last summer, Alex Verdugo wondered why a back/oblique injury originally sustained on the turf of Tropicana Field on May 22 wouldn’t heal all the way. But feeling a searing pain in his back after swinging and missing in a Minor League rehab game with the Dodgers' Class A Ogden affiliate on Sept. 2, he finally got his answer.
Imaging taken shortly thereafter revealed an L5 stress fracture in his back.
Saturday was the first time Verdugo said publicly what the injury was, and the 23-year-old outfielder also acknowledged that the reports that surfaced earlier this week -- that he is likely to miss Opening Day -- could wind up being accurate.
“We're not trying to rush that,” Verdugo said. “We don't want to give fans or give people a false hope or just even a deadline that we miss again. So it's just -- we're going to take our time on this and make sure that we're right. So that way, when I am playing, when I'm able to be in Boston, that it's the whole year and it's continuous. And we don't have any setbacks or anything like that.”
Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke also admitted that thinking Verdugo can play on March 26 for the first game in Toronto is probably a reach.
“We'll look at that,” the skipper said. “To be honest with you, if everything goes right, he still may not be ready for Opening Day.”
Though the Dodgers never told their press corps the specifics of the injury, the Red Sox knew about the findings while reviewing his medical information just prior to the blockbuster trade that brought Verdugo to Boston and sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles.
Red Sox doctors were able to examine Verdugo for the first time on Friday, and the injury appears to be healing well.
“It's in a progression where they're really liking how it's coming along,” Roenicke said. “It’s an injury that takes time. It takes a lot of time for this to heal. It's an injury that is fairly common in baseball because of the rotation -- it’s a rotation issue.”
So there's your answer if you were wondering why the Red Sox would trade for a player with such an injury: It's is a common one that usually heals all the way. Boston, which controls Verdugo’s contractual rights for the next five seasons, was thinking the long view.
Plus, outside of Verdugo, they think they are getting a good return for Betts and Price with prospects Jeter Downs (ranked No. 44 overall by MLB Pipeline) and Connor Wong.
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Trade -- and the lead-up -- was ‘crazy’
Verdugo was already stressed out enough trying to get healthy again. Then came the flurry of trade rumors.
But the deal wasn’t finalized for another week due to medical concerns the Red Sox had about reliever Brusdar Graterol, who wound up going from the Twins to the Dodgers in a re-configured exchange.
“It was crazy because, obviously, social media was blowing up about the trade,” Verdugo said. “And then none of the players got notified by any of the clubs because it wasn't official. So we were waiting on medical staff, finalizing things. So to see it all transpire and to kind of feel like you're in the dark from the Dodgers, it’s a lot. It's tough.
“And obviously me being injured right now, I felt like I was already at a low point. So it was a lot to take in. My first organization I’ve been at, the only place I knew. There was a lot of love, a lot of feelings that went into that trade.”
Big fan of Papi, Sox
Now, however, Verdugo is clearly used to the idea that he will get to play for the Red Sox. In fact, he welcomes it.
“I don’t know if a lot of people know this, but growing up my favorite team was the Boston Red Sox,” said Verdugo, who grew up in Arizona. “I was a big fan of David Ortiz, big fan of Boston. To actually be here now, to meet the staff, meet the players and be with the organization, it’s amazing. They welcomed me with open arms. This is really like a family here.”
Just wait and see Verdugo’s reaction when Big Papi arrives at Red Sox camp for the first time this spring.
“I’m telling you, if I see David Ortiz here, I’m giving him the biggest hug. I might even tear up,” Verdugo said. “That’s one guy that growing up, I don’t know what it was … David Ortiz was just the man, dude. Like everything, with him just in the postseason. It’s just a different animal at all times, and it felt like when you needed him the most, he stepped up. He came up and he did it, and obviously you see the way the city loves him.”
Pressure being traded for Mookie?
Though two prospects did come along with Verdugo in the trade, Verdugo will have the most pressure to initially justify the Red Sox trading their best and most popular player in Betts.
“Obviously, Mookie Betts is one heck of a player, and it's just an honor to really be in that type of trade for a player like Betts and Price,” Verdugo said. “And really, it doesn't add any pressure on me. It doesn't add anything like that. I'm going to go out there, I'm going to play the hardest I can play, play with the passion and love that I have. And I know my numbers at the end, they will be good. And I know I can play and I'm confident in my ability.”
One thing that is already clear about Verdugo -- he doesn’t lack in the confidence department.
“I know what I can do on the baseball field. I’m extremely confident in my abilities with everything,” Verdugo said. “Defensively, in the batter’s box, base running. I know that I can be a game changer and I plan on being an All-Star, having Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, I plan on that.”
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.