By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
The breakup with Mookie Betts left a scar with many Red Sox fans, but here’s something that could at least aid with some healing: the long-term play of outfielder Alex Verdugo, who was perhaps the principal acquisition in the Betts trade.
What will Verdugo be in the long term? Hard to say.
But the early indicators are encouraging.
After sitting out on Opening Day, Verdugo made his Sox debut by going 3-for-4 with three singles in Saturday’s loss to the Orioles. The box score, of course, is one thing. But Verdugo’s four at-bats against both right-handers and left-handers gave us things – both positive and negative – to focus on as he begins his Red Sox career.
First, there is the matter of Verdugo’s stance, something NESN analysts Jerry Remy and Dennis Eckersley immediately noticed on Saturday. In the batter’s box, Verdugo starts with an open stance and then, as the pitcher begins his delivery, brings his right foot toward the plate. Second, his hands are quite low, almost down by his back hip. All of this suggests that the best way to pitch Verdugo will be with velocity on the upper, inside part of the strike zone, challenging Verdugo to get the head of the bat to the area outlined in red in this photo:
Yesterday, in Verdugo’s first at-bat, the Orioles pitched Verdugo effectively, jamming him in that very place and inducing a soft lineout.
Now, the good news:
In his next three at-bats, shown in the video below, Verdugo singled to left, then to right, then up the middle. He got hits against two left-handers and a right-hander, demonstrated good plate discipline, was aggressive on the bases. His ability to spray the ball suggests that defenses will not be able to shift against him. His ability to hit the ball to the opposite field can’t help but make one think he is perfect for Fenway Park. Take a look:
Now, here’s a prediction: don’t be surprised if, before long, Verdugo is a candidate to replace Andrew Benintendi at the top of the batting order.
Oh, one more thing: you know what Verdugo did not appear to do on Saturday: launch the baseball. In his first start, at least, Verdugo looked like an actual, old-school baseball player, and heaven knows the world could use more of those.
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