VER­DUGO

The Tribune (SLO) - - Sports -

“And he’s a guy you kind of just got to nudge him in the right di­rec­tion and sit back and en­joy the show that he puts on.”

Ver­dugo’s shows at Dodger Sta­dium open with his walk-up song, Vi­cente Fer­nan­dez’s “Volver Volver.” It elic­its a crescendo from the crowd be­fore ev­ery at-bat, what­ever the score, what­ever the in­ning. The track is an ode to his her­itage and his fa­ther, Joseph, whose love for Mex­i­can mu­sic en­sured it was in­cluded in Ver­dugo’s child­hood sound­track grow­ing up in Tuc­son, Ariz. Joseph would play it when he cleaned the house and picked up his son from school.

The mu­sic be­came em­bed­ded in Ver­dugo’s com­plex iden­tity. He was born and raised in Ari­zona but played for Mex­ico in the 2017 World Base­ball Clas­sic. He said his fa­ther and sib­lings speak Span­ish, but he doesn’t. He wants to learn. He hopes to pick up the lan­guage from team­mates – though he noted Julio Urias messes with him too much – be­fore hir­ing a tu­tor at some point.

“I would just say I’m proud to be Mex­i­can,” Ver­dugo said. “My dad’s Mex­i­can. My mom’s white, so I’m half … . It’s kind of made me feel at home. I don’t hide who I am. I know I can’t speak Span­ish. I know all that … . Just be­cause you can’t speak Span­ish don’t mean you’re not Mex­i­can, doesn’t mean you should hold back or not be in­volved with stuff.”

The song has helped Ver­dugo be­come an instant fan fa­vorite. His performance on the field has only cat­a­pulted his pop­u­lar­ity. He ex­hib­ited his arm strength throw­ing out Her­nan Perez at home from left field with a 98.4-mph one-hop­per to end the eighth in­ning in the Dodgers’ win over the Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers on Thurs­day. It tied for the hard­est thrown out­field as­sist this sea­son, ac­cord­ing to Stat­cast. Ver­dugo jogged off the field, his thick gold chains ric­o­chet­ing off his chest, yelling to no one in par­tic­u­lar.

“Hope­fully, in the fu­ture, they’ll learn from it,” Ver­dugo said af­ter the game of op­po­nents wanting to test his arm.

At the plate, he’s bat­ting .333 with three home runs, 13 runs bat­ted in and a .986 on-base-plus-slug­ging percentage in 53 plate ap­pear­ances. The suc­cess has come in a for­eign role. Top prospects usu­ally don’t ar­rive in the ma­jors to find a bench role wait­ing for them. But Ver­dugo, who bat­ted .321 the last two sea­sons with triple-A Ok­la­homa City, is the Dodgers’ fourth out­fielder. He’s ap­peared in 23 of the Dodgers’ 24 games, but made just six starts.

“He’s ex­ceed­ing ev­ery­one’s ex­pec­ta­tions,” Turner said. “Not that no one thought he couldn’t hit .300, .350, or what­ever, and play good de­fense. We all knew that. But to do it in the role he’s in and be ma­ture enough to han­dle it and take ad­van­tage of his op­por­tu­ni­ties, I think it’s some­thing we’re all really proud of.”

While he’s be­come a weapon off the bench, go­ing four for 10 as a pinch hit­ter, Ver­dugo has de­liv­ered, above all, in clutch sit­u­a­tions. With run­ners on base, he’s 10 for 28. With run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion, he’s six for 13. With run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion and two outs, he’s five for nine with three dou­bles. He pro­duced one of those dou­bles last Tues­day against Duke. It was Ver­dugo’s third hit of the game. He fin­ished with three RBIs. He couldn’t con­ceal his fiery de­light at sec­ond base.

“It’s good,” Ver­dugo said, “to have a lit­tle fla­vor.”

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