‘He’s in a good spot right now’: Alex Verdugo appears to be getting back on track after July slump

Red Sox

Verdugo hit a leadoff home run in a third straight game on Saturday.

Alex Verdugo has had many hits to celebrate over the last few weeks. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

July was a brutal month at the plate for Alex Verdugo.

The Red Sox lefty hit just .151 with a measly .479 OPS to go along with just two homers and seven RBIs. The frustrations surrounding Verdugo carried into the first weekend of August when he was benched for a game because he reportedly showed up to Fenway Park late.

Since his benching on Aug. 5, though, Verdugo has turned it around. He recorded his first three-hit game since June 14 in the first game following his benching.

Verdugo’s three-hit game on Aug. 6 was his first of five so far in the month, which is already the most three-plus-hit games he’s had in a month this season. In fact, it’s the most three-plus-hit games he’s had in a month since he joined the Red Sox in 2020.

The hot stretch has culminated in the last few days, with Verdugo becoming the first Red Sox player to ever hit a leadoff home run in three consecutive games.

Two of those games came against the team that traded him in a deal that’s been widely viewed as one of the biggest and most criticized moves of the 21st century. As Mookie Betts has garnered the majority of the headlines in his return to Boston with the Dodgers this weekend, Verdugo has arguably performed better, going for 4-for-10 with two homers in the first two games of the series.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora wanted to give Verdugo his due on Saturday.

“He’s in a good spot right now,” Cora told reporters. “He’s up for this series. For everything we’ve been talking about the other guys, he’s part of the whole trade and the history of Dodgers-Red Sox. He’s excited about it.

“I’m glad that he’s playing well. But he’s been setting the tempo from the get-go the last three days.”

Following Saturday’s game, Verdugo has gone 25-for-73 (.343) since his Aug. 5 benching, posting a .948 OPS with four homers and 10 RBIs in 19 games. He’s also increased the number of homers he’s hit in the leadoff spot this season by 50 percent in the last three games, hitting nine homers this year when he’s been the Red Sox’ leadoff hitter.

Saturday’s leadoff homer came off Dodgers lefty Julio Urias, which surprised Verdugo because he didn’t think he’d be hitting leadoff. Prior to Saturday, he’d yet to hit a homer against a lefty this season, as he had a .230 batting average with a .621 OPS against southpaws in 2023.

“Once I saw that I was leading off, man, it just fires me up,” Verdugo told reporters. “I still feel like I can hit lefties and righties and have good at-bats against them. The outcome might not always be there [but] the process of it, working pitchers, I feel like I do a good job.”

Verdugo took pride in accomplishing the feat of becoming the first player in Red Sox history to hit a home run in three consecutive games after Saturday’s win, but he also said he’s not trying to do too much at the plate.

“It’s cool, especially for me — I’m not a home run hitter, so to see that and know that is pretty cool,” Verdugo said of the new mark. “But at the end, it’s not like I’m overthinking it or anything like that, it’s just a good little stretch right there in the leadoff spot, so we need to keep on having good at-bats and keep squaring up the ball.”

As Verdugo has put a pounding on the ball over the last few games, some of his advanced numbers following his Aug. 5 benching are in line with his regular-season averages. He’s posted a hard-hit percentage (number of balls hit in play that have an exit velocity of at least 95 mph) of 38 percent, which is equal to his season average. His strikeout rate is the same (15 percent), while his walk rate is actually lower (four percent) than it is for the season (eight percent).

Verdugo is also hitting a bit better than expected, though. His expected batting average during this stretch is .313, which is 0.029 points lower than his real batting average since Aug. 5. He’s also posted a 16-degree average launch angle in this current run, which is nearly twice as high as his average launch angle this season (nine degrees), via Statcast.

Still, Verdugo is hitting the ball well and is playing more like the version of himself in the first three months of the season, which could indicate that his July performance was more of an anomaly than his hitting this month.

Verdugo noted that it was “weird” he’s hit a leadoff homer in three consecutive games, though it’s just a result of his pregame process.

“At the end of the day, just trying to handle my business, get ready for the game the best I can, do my scouting report on the pitchers, and put myself in a good position to succeed,” Verdugo said.