FORT MYERS, Fla. — As a bonding exercise, Red Sox manager Alex Cora assigned Jarren Duran and Alex Verdugo to make a presentation to their teammates Monday morning about Mexico, their team in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
Verdugo took the assignment to a high level, hiring a five-piece mariachi band to stroll into the clubhouse just after 9 a.m. They were playing his walk-up song, “Volver, Volver.”
Which raises the question: How does one find a mariachi band in southwest Florida?
“Google,” Verdugo said. “You just Google them up and we found them. They were able to drive out here and help me out. It was a lot of fun. They were great.”
Once the Sox hit the field, the band serenaded the players while they stretched and played catch. The group, Mariachi Villa de Guadalupe, seemed to be having as much fun as the players.
“That’s what it’s all about, right?” Cora said. “I know [people] are questioning the clubhouse and leadership and what we’re doing there. We’re going to do stuff to get to where we’re supposed to.”
The Assignment:— Red Sox (@RedSox) February 27, 2023
Dugie & Duran to present on Mexico ahead of the WBC. pic.twitter.com/iiKbDtncHV
As he prepares for his fourth season with the Sox, Verdugo is already one of the longest-tenured players on the roster. Only Ryan Brasier, Rafael Devers, and Chris Sale have been around longer.
But Verdugo, who does not lack confidence, acknowledged being anxious.
“I don’t usually mind talking in front of the group if it’s all just jokes and fun,” he said. “As soon as I had to be a little bit serious — aw, man — my heart was racing. I was more nervous there than I was in postseason.”
During his time around the team earlier this month, former Sox star Dustin Pedroia told the players that something simple like taking a slumping teammate out for dinner can help a team.
“That’s something that really resonated with me,” Verdugo said. “It makes the season feel a lot less longer. Everybody is going to go through the struggles; everybody’s going to grind … Just letting that guy know, ‘Hey, bro, we got you.’ ”
Their report, which was meticulously arranged on a large piece of poster board, included mention of great Mexican players Fernando Valenzuela and Vinny Castilla, the origins of the Mexican flag, and other facts about the country. The players also discussed where their families were from.
“This was Dugie and Duran’s production. They did everything,” Cora said. “For them to step up and be uncomfortable doing this, they did their research. It was actually a great day for us.”
The duo then combined to go 4 for 5 in a 4-1 victory against the Twins.
Another presentation may be coming next week. Cora hinted it could be from Kiké Hernández about Puerto Rico.
Garrett Whitlock, who had hip surgery in September, is on a different schedule than the other starters. He has been held out of fielding drills as a precaution and has yet to face hitters.
The odds of his being ready for Opening Day are decreasing.
“He’s throwing the ball well; he’s moving well,” Cora said. “We’re not concerned; we have a plan. We’ll see where we’re at in the upcoming weeks. If he’s ready for Opening Day, he’s ready. If he’s not, he’s not going to lose too much.”
Hop on the bus, Gus
The Sox have a roughly three-hour trip to Jupiter, Fla., and a 6:40 p.m. game against the Marlins Tuesday. Then comes a Wednesday afternoon game against the Astros in West Palm Beach. Greg Allen, Triston Casas, Bobby Dalbec, and Raimel Tapia will play in both games.
Cora was particularly appreciative that Tuesday starter Corey Kluber didn’t wait to be asked if he would travel. A two-time Cy Young winner and 12-year veteran, Kluber could have begged off the long bus ride in favor of a simulated game at Fenway South.
“I don’t really care for throwing on a back field, where I feel like guys go up and swing at a first and second pitch and it’s kind of a waste of time,” Kluber said. “I can make a bus ride, no problem. I’d rather pitch in a game.”
Off he goes
Masataka Yoshida was 0 for 3 and struck out twice. He will have two days of conditioning work at Fenway South before leaving for Japan and the WBC. Yoshida could be away for as many as 20 days … There weren’t any major issues with the new rules in the game. Minor league lefthander Joe Jacques was called for a balk in the fifth inning when he disengaged from the rubber for a third time. It was done on purpose as the Sox wanted to see how the Twins would react … For as much as the Sox rely on data, the team still has a large group of pro scouts. They had meetings at the complex Monday before heading off for their assignments.
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.