What's behind Verdugo's turnaround at the plate?

April 22nd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

NEW YORK -- craved a change of scenery after a tumultuous conclusion to his four-year tenure with the Red Sox. The outfielder believes that he has found what he needed with the Yankees, where he and the rest of the “Bronx Dawgs” are enjoying a winning start to the season.

“Honestly, this is probably my favorite clubhouse I’ve ever been in,” Verdugo said. “The amount of veterans, the amount of guys that all care for each other and want the best, it’s really encouraging. The biggest thing is in postgame recovery and workouts, the veterans stick together. You gravitate towards that.

“It’s a very close-knit, tight-knit group. It’s really special to see, especially for me coming over here. You never know how certain guys with 13 years of big league service, how they’re going to be, and these guys are super pro about it and know how to involve the entire team.”

As Verdugo spoke on Sunday, the 2003 DMX track “Dogs Out” played repeatedly on the clubhouse sound system, and there was no question about who had made that selection.

Verdugo delivered a big performance, contributing a tiebreaking two-run single that highlighted a four-run fifth inning. It was part of a three-hit effort for Verdugo, helping to power the Yankees’ 5-4 win over the Rays. His Yanks have won six of their first seven series and 15 of their first 22 games.

Though Verdugo started slowly at the plate, he has picked it up of late, collecting 15 hits in 42 at-bats (.357) in 12 games since April 8. The 27-year-old has notched six doubles, one homer, four RBIs and six walks over that span, good for a 1.020 OPS.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that he believes it is a sign of things to come for Verdugo, who was acquired from Boston in December in exchange for three pitchers: Richard Fitts, Nicholas Judice and Greg Weissert.

“I feel like he’s been solid the whole way. He’s having important at-bats at certain times,” Boone said. “I don’t necessarily feel like he’s gotten hot yet by any means. I mean, when he’s hot, he starts squaring it up all the time. When he really gets it going, then we’ll start to see those line drives two, three, four times a day.”

Verdugo said that a personal turning point came on April 3 at Arizona, when he belted a late two-run homer off the D-backs’ Kevin Ginkel, helping to power a 6-5 win in 11 innings.

“I felt like that was the first time that I really just trusted my swing,” Verdugo said. “I didn’t try to aim, wasn’t trying to force a result. I was really just trying to move the guy over from second and ended up having one of my better swings. I was like, ‘OK.’ That effortless level, that thought process, it lined it up.”

Now, Verdugo believes that he is more consistently hitting the ball on the sweet spot of the bat, keeping his swing tight to turn on pitches.

“Being a contact guy, when I’m struggling, I’m kind of hitting it off the barrel -- end of the bat, getting jammed, a little bit of in-between,” Verdugo said. “So I think the good thing is through the first part of it, I was seeing the ball well, still taking my walks, still able to kind of feel like I’m controlling an at-bat.

“I just wasn’t really getting as many barrels as I would like. Now, I think we’re sticking with that process, trusting the grind and just getting the pitchers in the zone. That’s half the battle.”