A FIERY FLAIR
Dodgers rookie Verdugo already a fan favorite
The Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Cincinnati Reds to begin a three-game series a week ago and manager Dave Roberts shot a text to Alex Verdugo afterwards to inform the 22-year-old rookie he was starting in right field the next day.
“I said, ‘I’m going to need you tomorrow,’ ” Roberts recalled. “And he said, ‘I got you.’ ”
That night, before the lefthanded-hitting Verdugo stepped into the batter’s box to face left-hander Zach Duke in the seventh inning with two on and two out, he and Roberts had a conversation in the dugout during a mound visit. The Reds had just intentionally walked Enrique Hernandez with first base open, electing to face Verdugo. Roberts and Verdugo discussed the situation. Verdugo oozed confidence.
“I told him, ‘Doc, don’t worry, baby,’ ” Verdugo said. “I got you. I got you.”
Moments later, Verdugo was standing at second base after splitting the left-center field gap for a two-run double. Dodger Stadium roared. Verdugo held his arms out in celebration. He looked and pointed at Roberts. The manager pointed back. He got him.
“I was like, ‘Yup. Mmm. Let’s goooo!’ ” Verdugo said.
After the game, Verdugo said he considered the Reds’ decision to intentionally walk Hernandez a sound baseball move but a slap in the face. The episode was an example of Verdugo making his presence felt before and after he showcases his well-rounded skill set between the lines. He’s lively and light-hearted. He dances. He speaks his mind. He warns everyone, “Don’t let the kid get hot!” Teammates laugh, go with it, and egg him on. Roberts said he finds Verdugo genuine and refreshing. Veteran third baseman Justin Turner calls his relentless energy entertaining.
But the front office had concerns before this season about Verdugo’s maturity level, something Verdugo recognized and acknowledged. He said he tried toning down his personality during his brief stints in the majors the past two seasons to fit in. He was more mellow. Calmer. Breaking spring training with the team for the first time, he believes, has allowed his peers to understand him better and given him greater confidence to be himself.
“He’s a young guy who brings a lot of energy to the field every day,” Turner said.
Dodgers rookie outfielder Alex Verdugo is hitting .333 with a .986 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 53 plate appearances.