A FIERY FLAIR

Dodgers rookie Ver­dugo al­ready a fan fa­vorite

The Tribune (SLO) - - Sports - BY JORGE CASTILLO

CHICAGO

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.

ROBERT GAU­THIER Los An­ge­les Times

Dodgers rookie out­fielder Alex Ver­dugo is hit­ting .333 with a .986 on-base-plus-slug­ging percentage in 53 plate ap­pear­ances.

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