Mattingly is running out patience with Puig
March, 23, 2014
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com
SYDNEY -- Don Mattingly has taken a lot of different approaches in managing Yasiel Puig for the past year or so. Last spring, he marveled like everyone else at Puig's physical gifts and the way he could take over a game from older players. There wasn't much to do then but stand aside and watch.
Then, there was that stretch in June and July when Mattingly delighted at the youthful energy Puig brought to a club that was languishing with veterans. For a while, Puig was the favorite son.
Then he got a little rowdy and there were the summer slaps on the wrist. Mattingly benched him a couple of times, semi-publicly. Once, he was late showing up to the clubhouse. Another time, he was so mad over an at-bat, he sauntered out to right field, not exactly delighting the pitcher.
Brendon Thorne/Getty ImagesYasiel Puig had three hits in the Dodgers' win on Sunday over the D-backs in Australia, but he also had two base-running gaffes.
Even when he disciplined Puig, Mattingly did so in a fatherly way, hoping it would make him a better player.
Now, you wonder whether Mattingly's patience -- and he has plenty -- is starting to enter a drought period. Back in October, Mattingly said he had a different vision of handling Puig than the rest of Dodgers management.
"Leave it to me, it'd be one way, but that's not necessarily the way the organization wants things to go," Mattingly said at his famous end-of-season news conference. He wouldn't elaborate much, but he said, "I just think there has to be a development system that we adhere to with Yasiel, along with all the other guys."
Puig chipped off another chunk of Mattingly's patience this spring when he showed up weighing 251 pounds, 26 more than he weighed at the end of last season and 15 more than he weighed when he showed up the previous spring.
When Mattingly was asked about it in February, he didn't consult a trainer to double-check the numbers. He ticked them off the top of his head. It was clearly on his mind. He didn't think the extra weight would be a problem, but he was keeping a watchful eye on it.
Puig batted .122 in spring training. At times, he seemed unfocused. In one drill, the Dodgers practiced calling for pop-ups. How rudimentary is that? Each of the veterans, including Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier took it seriously, dutifully calling for the ball and waving others off.
When it came to Puig's turn, he jokingly turned in circles in right field and let the ball land in the grass behind him. You would imagine a 10-year veteran might not appreciate that kind of behavior from a player entering his first full season.
Now, only two games into the 2014 season, we see a little more faith erode. Before Sunday's game against the Diamondbacks, Mattingly playfully compared Puig to the boy who cried wolf, saying he never knows when he is actually hurt because he grabs a different body part every time he strikes out.
After the game, a 7-5 Dodgers win that Puig left in the ninth, there was nothing playful about Mattingly's tone.
"Shoulder yesterday, back today, so I'm not sure if they're going to get him tests or get him to the MRI Monday or a bone scan on Tuesday, maybe," Mattingly said sarcastically. "I'm not quite sure what we'll do. We may not do anything. I'm not sure."
After Puig's first baserunning gaffe Sunday, Mattingly slapped him on the back when he came off the field. After the second, he didn't.
It seems pretty clear where this is going. Players with Puig's volatile personality are a lot easier to like when they're batting .517 than they are when they're batting .122. These early months will dictate how the Dodgers handle Puig going forward.
The diva act will be tolerated as long as it rests on top of a sturdy batting average.