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Alex Verdugo tops Alex Cora’s list of Red Sox players who can make a leap next season

Verdugo shares an embrace with teammates after Wednesday's regular-season finale.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Manager Alex Cora did not waste any time.

When asked which player he wanted to see take another step in their development, he quickly answered: Alex Verdugo.

“Yeah, he hit for average,” Cora said before the Red Sox’ beat the Rays, 6-3, in the final game of the season Wednesday. “But he can be a lot better base-running wise and defensively. He’s getting to that area in his career, where [you ask] who is he going to be?”

Verdugo, who will turn 27 early next season, finished the year hitting .280/.328/.405 with 11 home runs and a .733 OPS. But he was minus-4 in defensive runs saved. On the bases, Verdugo’s decision-making can sometimes prove costly. In the Sox’ July 12 matchup with the Rays, the Sox were trailing by a run in the seventh inning but were threatening with two on and no outs. Yet Verdugo, the runner at third, was thrown out going back to the bag by catcher Francisco Mejia.

Verdugo’s not a burner on the bases but still average, ranking in the 40th-50th percentile in sprint speed for most of his career. This year, he was in the 38th percentile, well below average. Cora blamed that on Verdugo battling injury for much of this year.

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“But also,” Cora said, “he put on some weight. Not in a bad way. He got bigger to hit for more extra-base hits, and I think it hurt him in other aspects of his game.”

Regardless, Verdugo could be better at running out ground balls, something he did consistently during the 2020 season.

To his credit, Verdugo was the Sox’ most durable player this season, playing in 152 games (two more than Xander Bogaerts).

“That’s always a good thing,” Verdugo said. “It’s always your goal. You want to play as many games as you can. For me, that’s been a big part of who I usually am. I’ve always played pretty much the majority of time. For me, it’s just being with the training staff. I have a couple guys here that I like and we have a program or regimen that we kind of went about this year.”

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When the Sox traded for Tommy Pham, they shifted Verdugo to right field, making that his primary position. Where Verdugo plays next year — right field or back to left — depends on what the Sox do this offseason.

Cora praises Eckersley

Closing day for the Red Sox also marked retirement for NESN color commentator Dennis Eckersley. The Hall of Famer spent 50 years in baseball and has called Red Sox games since 2003. Friends and colleagues spent much of this homestand lining up for pictures and saying their goodbyes to Eckersley.

Dennis Eckersley, seen here in the press box before Wednesday's game, received plenty of kudos on the afternoon, including praise from Alex Cora.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

“He’s awesome,” Cora said. “The guy, he has passion about this. The guy is passionate about this. You know, that’s not an easy job. You have to prepare kind of the same way you prepare as a manager and he’s on point. He’s very passionate about it. It’s very black and white with him. There are no gray areas. He’ll let you know [how it is]. And he’s a Hall of Famer as a player, so he knows how it goes.”

Castiglione a finalist

Joe Castiglione, who has called Sox games on the radio since 1983, is one of 10 finalists for the Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence. The winner will be announced Dec. 7. Castiglione has been calling games for 43 years, having worked in Cleveland and Milwaukee before coming to Boston . . . Fenway Park will be an early voting location for all Boston precincts Oct. 29-30 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Residents may access the park at Gate A on Jersey Street.

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Read more about the legacy of Dennis Eckersley


Julian McWilliams can be reached at julian.mcwilliams@globe.com. Follow him @byJulianMack.