Red Sox OF Verdugo says he’ll be ready for start of season

BOSTON (AP) — New Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo said on Monday that he is fully healthy and he will be ready for the season — if there is one.

Verdugo has used the delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic to rehab a stress fracture in his spine he already had when Boston acquired him from the Dodgers in the deal that sent Mookie Betts to Los Angeles on the eve of spring training. At the time, the Red Sox said he was not expected to break camp with the rest of the ballclub; Verdugo had said he may be ready “slightly after” opening day.

But that was before opening day itself was put on hold.

“Whenever the season is, I think I’ll be ready,” Verdugo told reporters in a conference call. “If they say that we’re ready to go, then I’m out there.”

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Verdugo said he remained active at home after the Red Sox complex in Fort Myers, Florida, was shut down. But things have been easier since he was allowed to return to the ballpark last week, and he is now working out four days a week. Because of social distancing mandates, the only other player he has seen there is pitcher Chris Sale.

After batting .294 with 44 RBIs and 12 home runs last season before shutting down in August because of the back injury, Verdugo was the key player coming to Boston in the deal that sent Betts and David Price to the Dodgers. The Red Sox also shed more than $70 million in salary, allowing them to get under the luxury tax threshold — a move that could save them tens of millions more over the next three years.

And while Verdugo’s setback after reporting to spring training had Red Sox fans bemoaning the deal even more, the possibility that the season might be canceled could mean that the Red Sox would have picked up Verdugo and prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong for nothing.

“For the Dodgers, that’s a tough deal,” Verdugo said.

Major League Baseball suspended spring training and has pushed back opening day at least until the middle of May while trying to find a way to salvage at least part of the season. Among the proposals has been one that would sequester players and support staff around a limited number of sites, where they would play games without fans in the stands.

Verdugo said players could accept having empty stands; many have played in front of small or absent crowds in fall leagues or in simulated games. After a while, though, the lack of excitement that the fans bring could drag things down.

“The fans bring that energy,” he said. “I like to hear the cheering. You like to hear the boos. It’s that instant feedback that gives you adrenaline. You feed off of that.”

Mostly, Verdugo said he just wants to make sure whatever plan the sport comes up with is safe. But he was also skeptical that players would agree to move away from their families for an extended period — especially those with young children.

“The athlete in me, the player in me, I want to play. I want to be out in the field. That’s where I love to be,” he said. “It doesn’t seem logical to me to separate families, or to make players quarantine. That’s a little tough to grab my mind around.”

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