Mattingly gives Puig another day off

LOS ANGELES - For the third time in his team's last nine games, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly held slumping outfielder Yasiel Puig out of the starting lineup.

The twist on Tuesday night against the first-place Washington Nationals was that Mattingly replaced Puig with one of the Dodgers' top prospects, 22-year-old center fielder Joc Pederson.

Pederson went 1-for-3 in the Dodgers' 4-1 win, singling in the second inning for his first major league hit.

Mattingly said it was a matter of trying to give Puig a mental break and extra time to work on his swing, but said it was also about putting the best defensive center fielder on the field on the night ace Clayton Kershaw pitches. Mattingly wouldn't commit to which player would be in center field on Wednesday.

Puig is batting .210 with a .535 OPS and just three extra-base hits and 24 strikeouts since Aug. 1.

"It's kind of like the kid in the water learning to swim. Are you going to leave him in the water until he learns how to swim and maybe he drowns, or do you pull him off and help him a little bit and then give him a chance to get back in the water?" Mattingly said. "A little bit of that with Yas."

Mattingly mentioned one of the reasons why he's giving Puig these days off is so that he can take early batting practice, but on Tuesday Puig walked into the Dodgers' clubhouse in street clothes at 3:58 p.m., minutes before the team was due to stretch. Early batting practice is typically at around 2:30 p.m.

"He didn't hit early today, but it does give him a chance when BP is over to go over to the cage and do some work before the game starts," Mattingly said.

It's unlikely the team would use Pederson, who made his major league debut on Monday, on an every-day basis in center field in this final month and the playoffs if it qualifies, but he was one of three prospects the team considered virtually untouchable during trade talks leading up to July 31. Many people consider him the team's center fielder of the future.

Pederson batted .303 with a 1.017 OPS and hit 33 home runs and stole 30 bases at Triple-A Albuquerque, becoming the first 30-30 player in the Pacific Coast League in 80 years.

Mattingly, a one-time AL batting champion and former hitting coach, has compared Pederson's swing to those of Robinson Cano and Carlos Gonzalez.

"We think he's a baseball player. Pennant race or not, it's still baseball. The same principals apply. We all like the way Joc carries himself. Since he was really young you could tell right away he had that little swagger," Mattingly said. "He grew up around the game, so he carries himself with an air. Is it a tough spot? Probably a little bit, but we think he can handle it."

The Dodgers are also concerned that the 162-game schedule has caused Puig fatigue and led to less-patient at-bats. He batted .213 in September of 2013.

"We know in Cuba they don't play in as many games and late last year he struggled, too," Mattingly said. "Maybe the number of games is wearing him down a little bit. Hopefully, he gets rested and has a chance to step back, all of that. We'll get him back in there and see what happens."