MINNEAPOLIS — Earlier this month, when the Red Sox were sputtering, manager Alex Cora benched outfielder Alex Verdugo for a day after what he saw as disappointing effort on the bases. The 27-year-old didn’t love the decision, but he also didn’t take it lightly.
Verdugo entered Tuesday’s 10-4 win over the Twins carrying a 10-game hitting streak that started with his return from the benching. In that time, he was hitting .395/.447/.558, including an active streak of seven games in which he’d reached base multiple times, the longest of his career. Verdugo went 1 for 5 Tuesday and scored a run.
“He always responds. I want Dugie to play at this level all the time,” Cora said, raising his right hand above his head. “This guy, five, six years ago, they were talking about him like a five-tool player, and I think we’re getting the closest version of that. There’s more there but we’ll take him the way he’s been playing here.”
Verdugo agreed with Cora’s assessment that this has been the best display of his talent. He entered Tuesday hitting .303 (sixth among big league outfielders) with a .377 OBP (sixth), .467 slugging (23rd), and .844 OPS (15th). He’s playing above-average defense in right field and running the bases well.
One year after he sometimes fell into ruts of rollover ground outs, Verdugo has remained more committed to being a gap-to-gap hitter who takes pride in leading the American League in doubles (24).
“I know the type of hitter I am,” said Verdugo. “Doubles are still really good. It puts you in a really good spot to score and just help your team. I think that’s one thing I’m doing better. I’m not getting caught up with all the numbers. I’m just trying to have fun, hit the ball, and put my team in the best position to win.”
Verdugo leads the Sox by a sizable margin in every Wins Above Replacement calculation, while ranking among the elite in the AL. His season line is similar to Masataka Yoshida (.303/.377/.467 for Verdugo, .302/.375/.473 for Yoshida) with better defense and base running.
With that similarity comes curiosity. The Sox spent $105.4 million to sign Yoshida for the next five years. So what might Verdugo, who has better secondary skills, be worth when he’s eligible for free agency after the 2024 season?
“It’s always in the back of your mind, because you don’t know where you’re going to go. You don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Verdugo. “You have your days where you think about it, but you won’t know until you get there. I’ve got to still go out there and play and do good and just do everything I can to help us win. However they and we want to handle it, that’s how it happens.”
Verdugo said he hasn’t had any talks about a deal that would keep him in Boston beyond his eligibility for free agency. He made clear he’d be open to such conversations, but also expressed no urgency.
“All in good time. It will happen when it happens,” said Verdugo. “I’m all ears. I do love Boston. I’ve been saying it for many years. I’ve really been able to come into my own in this organization. I like it a lot.”
Surgery for Houck
Righthander Tanner Houck, who suffered a facial fracture last week when a liner from Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka hit him on the right cheek, will undergo surgery next week to have a plate inserted.
While the Sox do not have a timetable for Houck’s return, they are confident he will pitch again this year.
“He is pitching,” said Cora. “The fact that he knows he’s going to be part of [the team this season] is good, it’s the best news we could get.”
Cora described the outcome as something close to a “best-case scenario” given that the ball missed his eye and his temple. He said Houck (3-6, 5.05 ERA in 13 starts) was heartened by the clear path moving forward.
“Getting rest and knowing what’s going to happen, obviously knowing that he’ll be part of this whenever he gets back, it’s a good feeling,” said Cora.
Though the Sox have avoided offering a timetable — and have not identified the specific fracture(s) — there is a comparable recent case that offers general insight. In late August 2021, Chris Bassitt suffered a broken cheekbone on a liner. One week after the injury, he underwent surgery. With no minor league season for rehab outings, Bassitt returned directly to the big leagues 30 days after the surgery, albeit while capped at three innings.
Shortstop Pablo Reyes was scratched shortly before Tuesday’s game because of what the team described as right abdominal soreness he experienced while taking pregame groundballs. Cora described him as day to day. When the injury occurred, the Sox pulled middle infielder David Hamilton from the WooSox game in case he was needed for a call-up. The team also pulled Enmanuel Valdez because of a jammed thumb … Lefthander Joely Rodriguez, on the injured list since June 4 with left shoulder inflammation, made a rehab appearance for Worcester, allowing two hits with a strikeout while facing four batters and throwing 15 pitches. His sinker registered at 89-92 miles per hour. He’s expected to make another rehab appearance in two days, at which point the Sox will determine additional rehab steps.
In the latest voting results for the All-Star Game, Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Braves (2.2 million) and Shohei Ohtani of the Angels (1.9 million) are the leading vote-getters. No Red Sox players are in position to advance to the “run-off” round, which will feature voting among the top two vote-getters at each position (and top six first-round vote recipients in the outfield).
Yoshida is the only Red Sox with a shot to advance to the run-off round. He ranks eighth among outfielders. First-round voting for starters at MLB.com closes at noon on Thursday.