The Monday Baseball Column: The story behind why Alex Verdugo's debut is being delayed

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The first impressions have been hard to come by. Just snippets.

Alex Verdugo occasionally cruises through the Red Sox' clubhouse these days, distinguishing himself with the constant companion of music. No headphones, but rather a small speaker that allows for somewhat of a soundtrack wherever he wanders. Once in a while, there might be a sighting out on the field talking to some fans or lightly playing catch. That's it.

The centerpiece for the Red Sox' return on the Mookie Betts trade will have to wait and so will those who want to uncover what type of player they are truly dealing with.

"My personal thing is sometime just after the season (starts)," Verdugo told WEEI.com . "But we don’t know."

Verdugo is not only recovering from a stress fracture in his back but is also in a race against time when it comes to actually re-discovering a body that can perform at the level expected. This is what people are missing. It's not just the back, it's all the muscles that have been put on the back-burner because of the original injury. 

It's not a total surprise. The Red Sox -- while met with some surprises when evaluating Verdugo's medicals -- were warned of this sort of timetable by the Dodgers. Although what Los Angeles might not have surfaced was how this delay might have been avoided.

While it was known Verdugo was dealing with injuries, missing the final two months of the season, the descriptions were vague. Lower back. Oblique. Heading into the offseason, evidently, the Dodgers weren't overly concerned either. Hence the ill-advised approach to Verdugo's workout program.

"It was one of those things I thought when I hurt it and taking month or two off it was going to be better. I thought I was going to go into workouts," he said. "When I went back home for the offseason to workout I was just following a regular workout plan that the Dodgers would give us. It wasn’t specific for my injury. When I was at home in November I looked at the app and it was making me do goblet squats and lifting room. It felt really soon at the time. I lifted and did it and after several days of that I just woke up and I couldn’t even move. I woke up with a bunch of soreness."

This led to a November visit to noted back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins, who locked in on a diagnosis and plan. It was a road that didn't include Verdugo anything close to the usual preparation for a baseball season for quite some time.

Considering the pain started in late May after a series against Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg, Fla, it was a much longer path than the outfielder ever anticipated.

"I still had this weird stuff in my back, but it wasn’t too weird. It was just an ache," he noted. "We went to rehab and I had three at-bats. I walked in the first one and I popped up in the second. It wasn’t a full let it eat swing. So I hit it and I was like, ‘I’m OK.’ The third one there was a 2-0 count I swung at a fastball, missed it and obviously with the miss you can’t slow it down. I felt a little something in my back and after that every time I stepped to my right it was like a knife in my back. I had never been hurt, growing up, nothing. It was it was spraining my ankle, stubbing something or pulling muscle. But even then you might have to hobble for a second but after few days I was going to be alright. The fact it is taking this long is frustrating. What keeps me positive is that all the players, the staff, the trainers, they all support me. They all want me to wait until I’m fully healthy and get back."

In his week-plus of rehabbing with the Red Sox Verdugo has made signficant strides, managing to rotate in body in a manner that wasn't possible prior arriving at JetBluePark. But there is a long way to go, longer than many realize. While it is assumed that he won't be ready for Opening Day, making his debut in May wasn't perceived as part of the deal. Now it is at least a very real possibility.

"It’s going along good," he said. "Obviously coming back from a stress fracture in my back. A certain amount of the rehab process is honestly giving it time. You have to let the bone heal. There is stuff that happens. People don’t understand that while you’re letting the bone heal for several months, a lot of other muscles you don’t use they get weak, they get out of whack. When you’re coming back from this you wait for the bone to heal and now that it’s healing and it’s good and move around and do stuff. You have to start working out, do athletic movements and to do that all the muscles that haven’t been used for several months need to be broken down, stretched and worked on and put in the right spots. I think right now the training staff here has done an excellent job of making me feel extremely good quickly. That being said we’re still going to take our time on this. We’re still going to make sure it’s not just a couple days I’m feeling good. We’re going to make sure when I get to baseball activities there are no setbacks."

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