This Red Sox outfielder is primed for a big year
This story was excerpted from Ian Browne’s Red Sox Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
The first player to take an at-bat for the Red Sox this season will be Alex Verdugo when he steps in for the bottom of the first inning of Opening Day on Thursday against the Orioles.
It is fitting that Verdugo gets a chance to be the tone-setter right away because this is a big season for him, one in which he hopes to prove that last year’s career-low OPS of .733 was just an isolated down year. Keep in mind that even in that down year, Verdugo still hit .280 with 39 doubles.
Aside from Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who has consistently touted Verdugo as someone he is bullish on for this season, nobody will be more excited to see the right fielder take his first at-bat of 2023 than someone else who used to play right field for Boston.
In fact, nobody played more games in right field for the Red Sox than Dwight Evans, which makes his interest in Verdugo noteworthy. I was recently doing an interview with Dewey, a Red Sox legend, at Spring Training. About midway through the chat, Evans went completely off topic.
“You know who we don’t talk about much and I’d like to talk about is Dugie,” said Evans. “You know Dugie? Alex Verdugo?”
Yep, Dwight. I know Verdugo. What do you want to say about him?
“I am so excited. He’s going to be playing right field. He’s excited. I’m excited for him. I spent a lot more time with him this spring,” Evans said. “People don’t know that he played with a broken toe last year. His big toe on his right foot. Think about that. He’s a tough kid. He’s got a good arm. He’s got good baseball instincts. He’s a character. I love him. When he’s on the field, he wants to win and he plays hard.”
It was April 15 of last season -- the home opener -- when Verdugo suffered a hairline fracture of his right big toe. He played on the fracture for two months and never mentioned it to the media, even as he slumped mightily.
For Evans, who played 162 games twice in his career and 150 or more in four others, this was something to take note of.
“For him not to miss a game with a broken toe, I mean, you think about your big toe as your balance and you’re always pushing off on that,” said Evans.
Evans, who still holds the club record with eight Gold Gloves, has talked shop with Verdugo on the art of playing right field in Fenway. And Verdugo has eaten it up.
“He’s somebody that I think played that right field the best,” Verdugo said. “I don't think that anybody played it better than him. Now I get to talk to him every day and just pick his ear and hear what goes through his mind and find out what he was thinking and just certain things that helped him. That’s been very helpful and I’m hoping that we can keep carrying that on throughout the whole year.
After putting a far greater emphasis last winter on his conditioning, Verdugo is ready to show off his skills in baseball’s most challenging right field.
“Right field is fun because I can turn and burn,” Verdugo said. “And just having that short fence gives you the opportunity to reach over and pull some home runs back. A lot of people hold right field at Fenway in very high regard and think it’s the hardest part. I’m going to pride myself on it and I want to be one of the best players to play right field in Fenway.”
His mentor has no doubts.
“To be an outfielder is easy,” said Evans. “To be a great outfielder, it’s hard. There’s a lot of work on backing up [other fielders]. He’s busting his butt over there. We’ve talked quite a bit. He's got it down. I’m not worried at all.”