The Yankees' Alex Verdugo reacts after hitting a two run-scoring...

The Yankees' Alex Verdugo reacts after hitting a two run-scoring single against the Rays during the fifth inning of a game Sunday at Yankee Stadium. Credit: AP/Adam Hunger

Seeing the Yankees this desperate for offense lately is not something anyone expected during the Juan Soto Era (however long that may be). And Sunday’s series finale against the Rays added to that building frustration, even if the crowd of 40,022 chose to give the booing a break despite another quiet afternoon from Aaron Judge.

Fortunately for the Yankees, at least one of their so-called “dawgs” had a day, all the way down in the No. 7 spot. That’s where Alex Verdugo resides, and while not usually leaned on for most of the heavy lifting, he had three of the team’s nine hits, including a tiebreaking  two-out, two-run single in a four-run fifth inning that propelled the Yankees to a 5-4 victory.

Verdugo, the originator of the “dawgs” moniker for this crew, did most of the barking. The top six spots in the Yankees’ lineup went a combined 3-for-21, with the lone RBI delivered by Anthony Rizzo’s two-out single in the first inning. Verdugo went 3-for-4, driving in a pair of runs, and maybe the best ball he smacked all day was his only out.

With two on and two out in the third, Verdugo hammered a 100.9-mph shot to the warning track in centerfield, where Randy Arozarena  chased it down. Chalk that up to the law of averages, as Verdugo’s first single was a 33-mph bloop that softly dropped behind third base. Either way, he wasn’t complaining. Verdugo is hitting .357 (15-for-42) with six doubles and a homer in his last 12 games, reaching base in 11 of them.

“That first at-bat I got tied up pretty good, but I still hit it to the right area,” Verdugo said, smiling. “After that, I had a good swing to right-center, where I thought I was going to be able to burn them. But [Arozarena] made a good play. It just kind of died.”

The most important swing, of course, was the one Verdugo put on a first-pitch splitter from Rays starter Aaron Civale in that pivotal fifth inning.

After Juan Soto and Judge grounded to short for the first two outs, the Yankees worked Civale for three consecutive walks. Verdugo had no intention of being that patient. He stepped up and smacked a two-run single to right, breaking the 1-1 tie and setting the tone for the rest of his dawgs at the bottom of the lineup.

Jose Trevino also jumped on the first pitch (88-mph cutter) for an RBI single. Oswaldo Cabrera followed by doing the exact same thing on the same pitch, both taking their cues from the aggressive Verdugo.

“That’s the spot we want someone like Verdugo, in that moment,” Cabrera said.

The Yankees can’t be too picky these days. Other than Soto, this lineup has turned into all bark, no bite. After chronicling Judge’s woes in this space a day earlier, we can report that with Sunday’s 1-for-4 performance, he has a .183 batting average with a .674 OPS, but two more strikeouts gave him 29 in 22 games and raised his whiff rate to 29%. With almost zero from Judge, Soto has been keeping the operation afloat, and the Yankees’ .706 OPS ranks 15th in the majors.

Consider Verdugo the other key winter addition. The Red Sox were anxious to send him packing, partly to clear the Fenway Park palate of the embarrassing Mookie Betts trade, but no one has looked more at home in the Bronx. On Sunday, Verdugo even wore yellow taxi cab cleats, each sporting a vanity license plate on the back. The left read “I (heart) New York” and the right featured “Dugie.”

“This is probably the favorite clubhouse I’ve ever been in,” Verdugo said. “The amount of veterans, the amount of guys here that care for each other and want the best. It’s really encouraging.”

The camaraderie is nice. But with the Yankees scuffling at the plate, getting a few more bats functioning is the priority, so they’ve got to hope this Verdugo resurgence sticks around for a while. It’s not as if the success enjoyed by the bottom third of their lineup served as a mere bonus Sunday — Verdugo, Trevino and Cabrera did just about everything, going 6-for-12 with four RBIs and a run scored. That’s a lot to ask.

“I think the mindset is just focusing on getting going and having good at-bats,” manager Aaron Boone said. “We were able to string together a lot of really good at-bats in that situation. It’s not about necessarily being passive — it’s about aggressively hunting a pitch you’re looking for. I thought Civale was really good today, and the fact that we were able to outlast him in some at-bats, create that traffic, and then Dugie went up there looking in a spot, got it and delivered.”

Someone in pinstripes had to.

Maybe the Yankees’ bats will warm up with the weather. Anthony Volpe will defrost into the leadoff hitter they imagined during the previous homestand. The Soto-Judge combo will be the game-wrecking duo the Yankees dreamed about all winter. Those three alone instantly would put any nagging worries to rest.

But on Sunday, the Yankees had to rely on Verdugo. It was only fitting that the clubhouse soundtrack during his postgame chat with reporters had barking in the background. Part of the rap song’s hook. The dawg had his day.


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