The best-case scenario for the rookie, who hit .294 with 12 homers and 44 RBIs in 106 games: The Dodgers win their first-round series and Verdugo is ready for the start of the NL championship series Oct. 11.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” Verdugo said. “I love to play. This is my happy place. I’ve always been like that, even when I was a kid. No matter what happened outside the field, I could go out there between the lines and nothing mattered.”
Verdugo was placed on the injured list Aug. 6 because of an oblique strain. He aggravated a back injury he suffered in May when he took a “big swing and miss” in a rehabilitation game Sept. 2.
Verdugo, 23, returned to Arizona for treatment and exercises to strength his core and back with an eye toward resuming baseball activities by October.
Fellow rookie Matt Beaty has filled much of Verdugo’s void, batting .279 with nine homers and 46 RBIs in 89 games entering Tuesday, likely earning a division series roster spot. Verdugo believes he can reclaim a spot for the second round.
“There’s some tightness, some stiffness and a little bit of pain in the back, but it feels better moving around with daily activity,” Verdugo said. “I’m going to give it a couple more weeks, get ramped up, and hopefully I’ll be close to making the next step by the time the NLCS starts.”
Verdugo, a fan favorite, caught a ceremonial first pitch Tuesday night, which featured his bobblehead giveaway, and received huge ovation.
An MRI test confirmed that Rich Hill suffered another strain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee Thursday, but the 39-year-old left-hander is refusing to succumb to the injury.
Hill threw off a bullpen mound for 10 to 12 minutes Tuesday. Manager Dave Roberts did not watch the session but left open the possibility of Hill returning.
“He tried to put his foot in a position to relieve stress on the knee,” Roberts said. “It’s per his tolerance. There’s nothing structural to where he has to be shut down. It’s more a strain of some type, and now try to see what you can do.”
Hill sprained the same knee in March and began the season on the IL. He made his debut April 28 and went 4-1 with a 2.55 ERA in 10 starts before returning to the IL because of a forearm strain June 20.
Hill, who will be a free agent this winter, returned Thursday to begin a four-start plan designed to prepare him to be the fourth starter in the playoffs. He retired two batters and lasted 27 pitches before being pulled.
“That [fourth rotation] spot is very cloudy right now,” Roberts said. “I would just say this: I can see that Game 4 being a little unconventional.”
Justin Turner remained sidelined because of a left-ankle sprain, but the third baseman, who hasn’t played since Sept. 7, is making progress toward a return.
“It’s not to a point where I hoped it would be, but it’s definitely getting better every day,” Turner said. “I’m at a point where I don’t want it to be something that lingers into the postseason. I want to make sure it’s feeling good.”
Roberts doesn’t think Turner, who is batting .291 with 27 homers and 67 RBIs in 538 plate appearances, will need many at-bats to be playoff ready.
“With his track record, he’s shown he can get ready to play in games with a short ramp-up,” Roberts said. “It’s not really about the schedule remaining. It’s about making sure J.T. is 100%. When he’s available to start, he’ll be in there.”