Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo hits two opposite field home runs.
Alex Verdugo has awakened from his early-season slumber to take the league by storm. The 24-year-old sputtered out of the gate in his first season with the Boston Red Sox but he’s caught fire over the last two games with a sudden power surge.
Verdugo is 3-for-6 with three home runs and four RBI over his last two games after starting the season without an extra-base hit or run driven in through his first eight games.
Friday night’s victory over the Toronto Blue Jays had Verdugo’s fingerprints all over it. He led the offensive charge with a pair of home runs and made a fantastic catch up against the right field wall to save a home run from landing in the bullpen.
The first home run gave the Red Sox a lead in the bottom of the second inning. Verdugo took a changeup on the outside part of the plate and drove it into the Monster seats.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Verdugo tacked on an insurance run with another solo shot, taking a sinking fastball that stayed up too high in the zone and hammering it in nearly the same direction to left field.
His first home run of the season was pulled to right field in Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field but with the change in venue to Fenway Park, Verdugo took aim at the towering green wall in left. Neither homer traveled further than 366 feet, hardly enough to get out of some ballparks, but that’ll play at Fenway.
Verdugo is the first left-handed hitter with two opposite field home runs at Fenway in a game since 2010, when Lyle Overbay hit two homers to left against Jon Lester.
Part of Verdugo’s appeal when he was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Mookie Betts deal is that his swing fits Fenway. Last season, 44.2 percent of Verdugo’s fly balls went to the opposite field.
Until last night, Verdugo had yet to hit a ball in the air to the opposite field. He rarely hit the ball anywhere in the air until Wednesday night’s home run in Tampa Bay.
Following that first homer of the season, I wrote about Verdugo’s frustrating habit of hitting the ball weakly into the ground. He had entered that game against the Rays with an outrageous 81 percent ground ball rate that led the league by a mile. I stressed that hitting the ball in the air would lead to improved production and clearly he listened, as he delivered two more home runs in his next game.
Verdugo still owns an absurdly high 73.1 percent ground ball rate but that percentage is quickly dropping and no longer leads the majors. That unfortunate distinction now belongs to teammate Jackie Bradley Jr. (76 percent).
The recent increase in fly balls is encouraging but so is his use of the opposite field, especially at Fenway. That left field wall can be an ally to lefties willing to go the other way. When opposing pitchers throw to the outside part of the plate, attempting to pull the ball to right will often result in a weak ground ball. That was the primary culprit behind Verdugo’s slow start. The ability to flick the ball to the opposite field counteracts what the pitcher is trying to do and allows him to use the Green Monster to his advantage.
Verdugo is starting to resemble the hitter who impressed as a rookie with the Dodgers last season. If he continues to spread the ball around to all fields while hitting it in the air a bit more often, his slow start to this season will quickly be forgotten.