Red Sox Notebook: Alex Verdugo records three hits, makes strong impression in debut

Jackie Bradley Jr.’s single to left field in the sixth inning wasn’t exactly deep enough to justify Alex Verdugo going from first to third, but he went anyway. The new Red Sox outfielder didn’t hesitate as he rounded second, and though a better throw probably would have gotten him out, he slid in safely.

In his first impression in a real game at Fenway Park, Verdugo made a strong one and showed everyone the player he wants to be.

Verdugo, who was the main return in February’s trade that sent Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, has big expectations to fill with the Red Sox, fair or not. But in Saturday’s loss to the Orioles, none of that seemed to affect him as he recorded three hits, played strong defense in right field and was aggressive on the bases in his Red Sox debut.

“At the end of the day, we wanted a different result,” Verdugo said. “I want a win. That’s mainly what I care about, but yeah, I think at the plate, on the bases, first and thirds, reading dirt balls and really all that. I played my normal game today. I just went out there relaxed, stuck with my approach and stayed within my element and you guys got a little glimpse of it today.”

It was a mild surprise when Verdugo was left out of Friday’s Opening Day lineup. The Red Sox were facing a lefty, and Ron Roenicke picked Kevin Pillar in right-fielder over Verdugo. Verdugo said Saturday it didn’t bother him, but he made sure to let his manager know on Friday that he can hit lefties.

After some struggles in summer camp, Verdugo made good on that promise as two of his three hits came against lefties.

“Nice to see the type of player that we think he’s going to be,” Roenicke said. “He was really happy with his day, how he swung. And then defensively, we think he’s a good defender. He came and made the nice catch coming in, and he throws the ball well. I think his total game is going to be there. It was nice to see all those hits today to get him going.”

The aggressive baserunning was also by design. In addition to that first-to-third run, Verdugo alertly took second base in the eighth inning after a wild pitch. He said the Dodgers emphasized smart baserunning, but with the Red Sox he wants to tap into his potential.

On Saturday, he was even taking that aggressive approach when he didn’t mean to. As the Orioles made a pitching change in the eighth, Verdugo walked from second to third to talk to third-base coach Carlos Febles, but got so deep into the conversation that he forgot to go back to second base.

Verdugo got into a back-and-forth with the umpire about it, who told him to go back to second and not to try getting free bases. Verdugo chalked it up as a miscommunication, but it demonstrated a fiery side of him and an energy that he plays with.

“He’s emotional and he’s fun to watch,” Roenicke said. “So when things are going well, I think everyone is really going to like him.”

Managing time

It may have been just the second game of the season, but Roenicke is already doing what he can to take care of his players.

A night after the Red Sox’ 13-2 season-opening trouncing of the Orioles, Roenicke gave shortstop Xander Bogaerts and catcher Christian Vazquez the day off for Saturday’s 7-2 loss to the Orioles. Both players are fine physically, the manager said, and both were scheduled off days. Bogaerts pinch-hit in the sixth inning in the loss and played the rest of the game.

“I had talked to, not just the trainers, but our conditioning people, and we have in place a plan that they send me, it’s about the workload that guys get, and when they think they need days off,” Roenicke said. “This is just coming from Bogey not playing deep in these exhibition games and not to the point where we think nine innings whether it’s five days in a row or how many in a row is fair to him. I knew I was going to do this the second day.

“Knew the same thing with Vazquez that I was going to do that. So that’s really what it is. I got him out a couple of innings last night, just to make sure, but knew that today he wasn’t going to be in there.”

The unusual circumstances surrounding the start of the season also played a part. Roenicke explained that spring training is normally five weeks for position players, but it was shrunk to a three-week period for summer camp. He wants to be cautious as certain players work to full shape.

“It’s hard to get guys where you think they’re comfortable playing nine innings a lot of days in a row,” Roenicke said. “Some guys physically we think can do it. I’m going to try to switch off if I can, especially this first week. We’ve got 10 in a row, I don’t want anyone playing 10 games in a row right now. It’s important, I know, to start, but it’s more important to make sure they stay healthy through these 60 games.”

Covey optioned to Pawtucket

After making his Red Sox debut, new right-hander Dylan Covey was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket, where Roenicke said they will try to stretch him out to pitch longer. A corresponding move is expected to be made on Sunday.

Though Covey gave up three hits and two runs in two innings Saturday, Roenicke liked what he saw.

“I thought he looked good,” Roenicke said. “His offspeed pitches were good. He threw strikes, but he’s not built up, we need to get him there. Try to extend him to three innings the next time and then maybe four after that and then we’ll see what our need is when he gets stretched out when he’s strong and so that’s that move.”

Roenicke was still figuring out how he would close his rotation’s first turn. After Ryan Weber starts Sunday’s series finale, the Red Sox have four games against the Mets this week, starting with two at Fenway on Monday and Tuesday. Zack Godley is a candidate to start Monday. …

The Red Sox claimed left-handed pitcher Stephen Gonsalves off waivers from the Mets after Saturday’s game. He’ll report to the alternate training site at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket.

The 26-year-old Gonsalves has pitched in seven career major league games, including four starts, all with the Twins in 2018.

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