Outfielder Alex Verdugo was scratched from the lineup on Wednesday afternoon, the Red Sox electing to proceed with caution on a wet night due to what the team described as tightness in his lower back. While that measured approach was understandable, it also seemed unfortunate given the remarkable fit of Verdugo in his home park.
On Tuesday night, Verdugo hit a homer that virtually no other lefthanded hitter can fathom at Fenway Park. He took a 96 mph fastball on the outside corner from Tigers righty Alex Lange and drilled a liner directly down the left field line that cleared the fence.
On occasion, a righthanded hitter with incredibly quick hands who catches a fastball out in front of the plate might hit that sort of homer. But lefties, who typically catch the ball deep in the zone when driving it to the opposite field — meaning less bat speed at the point of impact — almost never hit such a rocket.
“You probably had to have been perfect to hit it out at that angle and at that spot,” said Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers.
“You have to be on time. You gotta be perfect,” agreed manager Alex Cora. “That was eye-opening.”
Verdugo continues to show a balanced offensive approach that allows him to excel in Fenway. Entering Wednesday, he was hitting .327/.371/.527 with two homers in 15 games at home this year. Those numbers resulted from an almost perfect distribution of balls hit in play to the opposite field, center, and pulled, as well as an even spread of grounders, liners, and flies.
That even spread underscores Verdugo’s adaptability as a hitter. He does not simply sell out for power or shoot liners to the opposite field. He does not provide opposing pitchers with a clear path for beating him.
“Whenever they shift him, he knows that there’s a lot of hits on the other side,” said Cora. “He likes hits.”
With an overall .314/.379/.520 line and modest 12.9 percent strikeout rate (15th lowest among qualifying hitters), Verdugo represents one of the better pure hitters in the game. And his ability to handle all pitch types, work deep counts, and hit the ball hard to all fields has made him a catalyst in front of J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers.
“He’s one of the best hitters that we have, and there’s a reason he’s hitting second,” said Cora. “I still feel he can be better, and he puts the work in. It’s fun to watch.”
The answer man
Even with just three position players available off the bench, the versatility of Kiké Hernández and Marwin Gonzalez has permitted the Sox to balance playing time and provide members of the lineup with rest.
On Tuesday, the Sox had no problem giving Devers the day off and plugging in Gonzalez at third. On Wednesday, when Verdugo was scratched, the team relocated Hernández from second to center. Over the weekend, Cora will rest Bogaerts thanks to the ability of Gonzalez to play short.
“Marwin is a valuable player. He’s kind of the answer to everything when something comes up in the season. It’s why we like these multi-positional guys,” said Tigers manager A.J. Hinch, who had Gonzalez with the Astros.
Hinch marveled at the flexibility afforded the Sox by having two of the most versatile players in the game, who can maneuver freely around both the infield and the outfield.
“The defense doesn’t slip,” said Hinch. “That’s a rare combination to have in one player let alone two players.”
Gonzalez entered Wednesday hitting just .192, albeit with a respectable .312 on-base. Still, Hinch understood why he remains a regular in the Red Sox lineup.
“When he heats up, he can really do a lot of damage. His hot streaks are pretty impressive. You kind of want him in the lineup as much as possible,” said Hinch. “[He] has really grown into a fine major league player regardless of the ups and downs on the offensive side the last couple of years.”
Milestone left a mark on Michael Chavis
Michael Chavis claimed a hard-earned landmark in Worcester Red Sox history on Tuesday night, becoming the first official WooSox baserunner when he got hit by a pitch leading off the second inning in Trenton, N.J., against the Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate. “Something I’ve always dreamed about,” the 25-year-old joked. “As soon as I heard, I called my mom and my whole family.” Chavis later hit a double, the first extra-base hit in WooSox history. While Chavis is in Triple A to open the year, he expressed optimism about 2021. “I feel better than I was in 2019. I feel better than I have ever in professional baseball, honestly. I feel like the way I performed in spring training kind of relayed that. Honestly, I feel incredible,” said Chavis. “Whenever my opportunity comes, I’m really looking forward to it.” … Bogaerts appeared in his 999th career regular-season game on Wednesday. On Thursday, he’s slated to become the 30th player in Red Sox history to appear in 1,000 with the team, and the 10th to do so before turning 29 years old . . . Red Sox pitchers have had at least 10 strikeouts in nine straight games, the longest such streak in team history. In the franchise’s first 61 seasons (1901-61), there was not a single instance of back-to-back 10-strikeout games … The Blue Jays, still prohibited from playing in Canada because of COVID-19 restrictions, announced they’ll relocate their home games from their spring training complex in Dunedin, Fla., to Sahlen Field in Buffalo in June. Before that change of address, however, the Red Sox will play three games in Dunedin from May 18-20. The Jays are 7-4 this year in Dunedin, the top “home” record of any American League team.