BOSTON (CBS) — Sports are all about how players respond to pressure. And pressure can come in countless forms.
In the case of Alex Verdugo, the pressure on the 24-year-old likely comes from being the centerpiece in the return for Mookie Betts.
Verdugo got off to a promising start in Boston, registering three hits in his Red Sox debut. But in his next eight games, he hit just 4-for-24 (.167) with seven strikeouts and zero extra-base hits.
On Wednesday, though, Verdugo broke out of his slump with a two-run blast to right field to give the Red Sox a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth. It would prove to be all the offense necessary in what ended up as a 5-0 Red Sox win.
“It felt amazing, man,” Verdugo said of his first home run in a Red Sox uniform.
While his first homer for Boston was a significant moment in his young career, he said his focus was more on the impact the homer had on the game.
“I think my biggest thing for me was just to help the team out. It was a tie game, just to get up there and give us a 2-0 lead, kind of give the pitcher, kind of give everybody a little breath, and it’s like, hey, all right, we’ve got some room to work. That was my biggest thing,” Verdugo said. “I came here to contribute. I’ve played the game hard and I want to contribute in everything that I do. So to finally be able to help out and to actually get a couple runs for us, it’s huge.”
D U G I E
— Red Sox (@RedSox) August 6, 2020
Verdugo shared that making in-game adjustments has been difficult, now that MLB has restricted in-game video use.
“I think it’s pretty obvious, I think a lot of us are kind of going through it right now, kind of trying to find our swings,” he said. “But it felt really good to finally be able to stay on one, to stay through it, and to get one out.”
Verdugo said that the sporadic playing time hasn’t affected him — at least not as much as returning from injury and the aforementioned lack of in-game video.
“I think the biggest thing, my timing was just super late. I was just late — starting late, everything like that. So the speed, the pitches, everything was speeding up on me. So I just went back to being a little bit calmer, starting a little bit earlier, and I’m starting to see the ball better,” Verdugo said. “Starting to put better swings on the ball. It’s a day-to-day grind. Gotta go up there every day and compete and try your best to do what you feel is right.”
After recording his first hit with the Red Sox, Verdugo gestured almost immediately to let anyone and everyone know that he wanted that baseball for his personal collection. That wasn’t the case on Wednesday, as he said he wasn’t able to retrieve his home run ball from an empty Tropicana Field. Still, with 15 MLB homers now on his career stats page, he’s hopeful that he’ll have plenty of more home run balls to collect in the future.
“So far, I haven’t gotten the ball. I didn’t even ask for it, honestly,” Verdugo said. “It was just one of those things, I think there was like an authenticator or something out there. He probably took it and swiped it, so I’m not too sure what to do with that ball. But hopefully there’s many more.”