TORONTO — Alex Verdugo took his sweet time rounding the bases when he gave the Red Sox the lead with a two-run homer off Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah in the sixth inning Wednesday night.

He might have even stared into Toronto’s dugout as he rounded third. But to hear Verdugo tell it, the benches-clearing kerfuffle between the teams three innings earlier had nothing to do with how he reacted. He was just happy to put the Red Sox on top.

“I don’t hit too many homers, so anytime I get one, a get-the-lead homer is big, so I definitely enjoyed myself running around the bases,” Verdugo said, adding that he has many friends in Toronto’s clubhouse.

On a dramatic night at Rogers Centre, Verdugo was the hero for the Red Sox. His sixth-inning homer put them ahead, 3-2. His two-run double in the 10th inning turned a 4-3 lead into a 6-3 lead. Considering the Jays scored twice off Matt Strahm in the bottom of the 10th, the insurance turned out to be mighty important in Boston’s 6-5 victory.

“It was huge,” Verdugo said. “You saw how it played out in the 10th. They got two runs right there so that swing proved to be the difference-maker.”

Against a Jays team that’s known for fun and flashiness, it was fitting that Boston’s most flashy player had a banner night. Verdugo said his role in the third-inning altercation — which was spurred by Vlad Guerrero Jr. taking issue with Nick Pivetta hitting Alejandro Kirk with a pitch — was to say “What’s up?” to some guys who ran in from the bullpen and some acquaintances with the Jays. And though the outfielder wouldn’t admit it, the heightened tensions must have made it even sweeter for him to have some big hits against a division rival.


“Alek (Manoah) likes to enjoy strikeouts and being good so for Dugie to stripe one off of him in a really big situation in a big game, I like what I’m seeing,” said Pivetta. “I like the flare.”

Pivetta wasn’t alone. J.D. Martinez noted that teammates enjoy Verdugo’s homers because they never know what to expect when he’s rounding the bases or what he’ll say when he returns to the dugout. Wednesday’s homer — Verdugo’s sixth of the season and second in five games — was a no-doubter. It left the bat at 107 mph and traveled 399 feet.

“I feel locked in right now,” said Verdugo, who hit .337 with 10 extra-base hits in June. “I like where my head’s at, my swing. I like what I’m doing with the ball, going from the left-field line to the right-field line. I’m going to keep going with that approach, hitting the ball hard.”

Manager Alex Cora has enjoyed Verdugo’s surge after a brutal May during which the outfielder hit .219 with a .552 OPS.

“He’s making adjustments. He has been swinging the bat well the last few weeks,” Cora said. “But in Cleveland and here, he’s slowing down the at-bat and hitting the ball hard. We know this guy is a great hitter. He’s an old-school type hitter but at the same time he can catch up with the fastball. He put a great swing on it.”

WHEN NICK PIVETTA walked off the mound at Rogers Centre in the seventh inning Wednesday night, he was booed loudly by Blue Jays fans. Four innings after the benches cleared as the result of Pivetta hitting Alejandro Kirk with a pitch, Pivetta was still considered a villain.


“I thought it was interesting. It is what it is,” Pivetta said. “I hit their best hitter.”

In Pivetta’s mind, the fact there was any kind of incident was mind-boggling. With one out in the third and the score tied 1-1, Pivetta tried to go up and in on the hot-hitting Kirk with a first-pitch fastball and ended up hitting him in the forearm. As Pivetta walked off the mound, some Blue Jays — including Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — started yelling at him from the dugout. Guerrero came up the dugout steps and players poured out from both dugouts before the umpiring crew diffused the situation.

“For me, Kirk’s a good hitter,” Pivetta said. “He has been hitting balls over the plate. I’m trying to throw them in. It’s going to happen in the game. I don’t hit a lot of guys.

“I think it’s unwarranted with the way they reacted. I think it’s spare parts, for lack of a better term. It’s not what I’m trying to do in that situation. I’m trying to win a baseball game. I’m not trying to let anyone else on base. It is what it is.”

TV cameras caught Pivetta yelling toward Guerrero that he wasn’t trying to hit Kirk and then — in profane terms — telling the young Jays’ superstar to shut up.

Franchy Cordero and Christian Vázquez worked to hold Pivetta back while George Springer and other Blue Jays tried to calm Guerrero. Rafael Devers walked toward Toronto’s dugout from his spot at third base.


“I don’t know. He was yelling at me,” Pivetta said. “I didn’t think it was necessary for him to come out and start screaming at me. It got me fired up (Vázquez) got fired up. That’s about it.”

Though the dugouts and bullpens both emptied and the teams got together along the third-base line, there was minimal physical contact and no punches were thrown. There were no ejections or warnings and tensions did not reignite later in the game.

“I actually ran over there and was talking to Bo (Bichette) about it afterwards. I was like, ‘Bro, that was weird,’” said Alex Verdugo. “I like a lot of those guys over there so it felt weird. By the time we got over there it was kind of de-escalated and basically used it to say ‘What’s up?’ to the bullpen, some guys on the bench. It was a little weird.”

WHEN GARRETT WHITLOCK returns from the injured list in July, the Red Sox might bring him back as a reliever.

Cora said the team is still discussing whether to bring Whitlock back as a starter (the role he has been in since late April) or in the bullpen (where he pitched all of last year and the first month of this season). Those conversations are ongoing.

“We’re talking about it. Obviously, health is the most important thing…,” Cora said. “Now, it’s a meeting of the minds. Chaim (Bloom) and Brad (Pearson) and everyone to see how we feel about him starting or him coming out of the bullpen.”


Cora said that putting Whitlock back in the bullpen is more about the individual player than the team’s pitching structure as a whole. But it’s easy to see why it’s intriguing to return Whitlock to a relief role. Boston’s rotation has been a strength all year and has plenty of depth options, some of whom have already demonstrated that they can pitch in the majors. The bullpen has been a weakness all year and could probably use some fortification.

The Red Sox are expecting Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi back in their rotation soon, and with Michael Wacha, Nick Pivetta and Rich Hill pitching well, there wouldn’t seem to be much room for Whitlock. Add in that Josh Winckowski has pitched admirably since coming up from Triple-A, depth options Kutter Crawford and Connor Seabold have both shown flashes, top prospect Brayan Bello is close to big league ready and James Paxton is expecting to be back by mid-August and a bullpen role for Whitlock appears to make the most sense.

Whitlock has also been better as a reliever (0.93 ERA, 0.621 WHIP in 9.2 innings) than he has been as a starter (4.15 ERA, 1.256 HIP in 39 innings) this year.

“We saw what he did last year. We saw what he did early in the season,” Cora said. “We’ve seen what he has done as a starter. I think people have this thing like he’s not a good starter. In six innings, you’re going to give up runs. That’s part of being a starter. You’re not going to go six scoreless every time.”

If he returns to the bullpen, Whitlock would likely serve a multi-inning role similar to the one he served last year and in April. Lining up Whitlock, Matt Strahm, John Schreiber and de facto closer Tanner Houck in the late innings would give Cora a fair amount of weapons in relief. The move would not be a panic move, Cora insisted, like the one the Sox made in 2019 when they turned Eovaldi into reliever down the stretch. Instead, the thinking is that it might put Whitlock in the best position to succeed.

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