Alex Verdugo isn’t short on confidence. When he was traded to the Red Sox back in February, one American League executive alluded to the 24-year-old’s audacity.
"Verdugo can play," the executive said. "He's not scared."
Saturday offered a glimpse into that world. Verdugo hadn’t seen live pitching in 10 months as he recovered from a stress fracture in his back, and Nate Eovaldi was set to pitch in the Sox’ first simulated game. Verdugo, naturally, wanted to face him.
"He told me he wanted to see velocity," manager Ron Roenicke said. "So, we gave him a lot of velocity."
Verdugo didn’t fare very well. He was late on many of the pitches, fouling them off to the left side. In one at-bat, Eovaldi struck Verdugo out with a cutter inside, which tied up Verdugo’s hands.
"Let's say that I got welcomed real quick," Verdugo said with a smile. "Good old 99-98 [miles per hour]."
The good news, Verdugo said, was that he got to track the ball. See it out of Eovaldi’s hand and get his timing back.
Eovaldi, who Roenicke said is further along than most pitchers, dominated not just Verdugo, but every hitter he faced.
“I started building back up [during the pandemic] like it was an offseason,” said Eovaldi, who said he took a month off in the beginning. “Once they said June 10 was supposed to be our start date, I tried to be ready by then. I probably have thrown five or six outings. I got to throw to [Sox catching prospect] Connor Wong. We were doing like six innings, 15, 20 pitches each.”
Eovaldi has a defined role; it’s almost certain he’ll be the No. 2 starter behind Eduardo Rodriguez. Despite Verdugo being the main piece in the blockbuster trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers, he enters camp having to make an impression. And Verdugo will have to learn Fenway’s right field, probably the toughest to play in all of baseball.
“When I played here with the Dodgers, they said the same thing,” Verdugo said. “Everyone was worried about the dimensions. I take a lot of pride in my defense. I work hard out there. I read the ball well out there. I’m not too worried about it. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
There have been talks about him possibly platooning with outfielder Kevin Pillar. That wouldn’t be unfamiliar territory for Verdugo. He comes from a Dodgers organization that prides itself on matchup and situational baseball. Verdugo said he would be willing to play any type of role for the Sox, but made something else clear, too.
“For me, I’m an everyday player,” Verdugo said. “That’s just that. It’s that simple. There are no ifs and or buts about it. I’m somebody who just wants to be out there every single day competing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lefty on the mound or a righty on the mound. So, really, I’m just someone who wants to be out there every day. I want to be a starter. That’s what everyone comes in the big leagues for. That’s what everyone wants to be.”
That, of course, is to be determined. But Verdugo isn’t shy about where he sees himself fitting into this new-look Red Sox team, even as the new guy himself.