Friday, August 30, 2013
Yasiel Puig's best response is production
By Mark Saxon
LOS ANGELES -- Somebody asked Yasiel Puig how he had received the message from two days earlier.
"Which message?" Puig said in Spanish.
Good point. Was it the text message from his mom, the voice mail from his friend or the 45 new email messages in his inbox? You must admit, there are a lot of messages nowadays.
After being removed from Wednesday's game, Yasiel Puig responded with a four-hit effort in a 9-2 win over the Padres at home Friday.
One of the beautiful things about the entire Puig experience is that, no matter how much drama swirls around him, how much attention he gets on TV, the Web, the Twitter-verse, the newspapers, radio, telegraph, messages in a bottle and word on the street, he doesn't seem to care.
He had a bemused smile when he described his approach to Friday.
"I just came to play baseball, like I always do," Puig said.
And he's going to play it, essentially, his way. That's pretty clear by now. Should we all just get out of the way and watch where it goes?
The Dodgers took early batting practice Friday afternoon. Among the participants was 10-year veteran Adrian Gonzalez, but not Puig, who has yet to polish off his third month in the major leagues.
It's easy to find fault with that. Puig had been pulled after four innings in the previous game for loafing in right field following a bad at-bat. Showing up for early work Friday might have shown that he was properly chastened. But Puig doesn't seem the type to be deferential, and once again he had the perfect response. He produced.
The last time Don Mattingly benched him, Puig hit the decisive home run after entering as a defensive replacement. This time, he went 4-for-5 with an RBI, a double and two stolen bases in the Dodgers' 9-2 win over the San Diego Padres. He was in the middle of two of the Dodgers' three scoring rallies. This was a more complete answer to his critics, more impressive than one swing on a first pitch in Miami.
And, by the way, Gonzalez's approach also produced. He popped a couple of two-run home runs, those two easily providing enough offense for Hyun-Jin Ryu, who won his 13th game with 6 1/3 breezy innings.
You might like Puig or you might not, but nobody can deny he's a frighteningly skillful baseball player.
One of the surprising facts about his season is that, through 77 games, Puig has only 10 stolen bases. Given his speed, he seems like one of the few legitimate 30-30 threats in the game and, perhaps, next season he'll shoot for something like that, unless that is too low a bar.
Puig said he has been more selective trying to steal, because the Dodgers are "getting close to the playoffs," but said, "We'll see how it goes next year." He admitted he has a statistical goal for 2014. He just won't divulge it yet.
In the meantime, as he thinks about rounding off his game, everyone else will be watching to see how he polishes off his personality.
Mostly, the Dodgers -- as they line everything up for the deepest October run they can manage -- need production from a lineup that has been entirely different since Puig arrived. They do, however, also need to know that he's not going to make the one decisive October blunder that defines their season.
To that end, they just need to know that he's paying attention, that he's listening. And, they insist he is, at least at times.
"I've seen guys at Cooperstown who overthrow a cutoff man. ... I think he's made a lot of progress," general manager Ned Colletti said.
Mattingly got a little short after the game when someone asked him what he saw from Puig in Friday's game that he hadn't seen Wednesday. It's fair to say the Dodgers don't want the narrative of their season to be confined to the trials and tribulations of this one mercurial talent. Nor should it be.
"He was fine. He played the game the way we want," Mattingly said. "The other day is over. He was good tonight. He played with energy, he made a good decision on a ball in the hole, got good jumps on his stolen bases, was patient over there.