Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lesson learned for Puig? We will soon see

As Ricky Nolasco was taking care of business in a 4-0 victory over the Cubs, which came a night after the Dodgers gave Clayton Kershaw no run support, the story of the day turned out to be young Yasiel Puig.

No, he was not putting together another multiple hit performance or gunning someone out from right field.  He was actually being yanked after five innings because Don Mattingly was so fed up with him.  In went Skip Schumaker, and suddenly we had a potential mess on our hands.

The reason Puig was pulled was never quite explained by Mattingly, other than to say that Schumaker "gave us a better chance (to win)."  That's an interesting comment considering Schumaker is basically a utility player at this point.  He's a pretty good utility player, but his talent level isn't anywhere close to Puig's.

Which is what makes Mattingly's comment so interesting, and quite frankly, spot on.  This is all about effort, as Puig was definitely in a funk all day on Wednesday.  He did take a walk in his first at-bat, but then promptly failed to slide into second on Carl Crawford's grounder, which led to a DP.  Sure enough, Hanley Ramirez hit a solo shot right after.  Puig looked like he would have been safe if he did slide, but made it an easy call when he didn't.

He then struck out in his next (and last) at-bat, slamming the dirt in disgust.  That turned out to be his swan song at the plate.

The hitting is one thing, but what stood out even more was his defense.  We've all seen Puig's style of catching the ball... well, with style.  It's one thing to catch fly balls on the side, but it's another when you have horrible body language when doing so.  That seemed like the final straw.

If there was a way to get Puig's attention, this is it.  Take away a man's playing time, and there is a certain level of embarrassment attached to that.  I flashed back to the time Bobby Cox pulled a young Andruw Jones during a game... in the middle of an inning!  That was 1998 and Jones was a star, and the message was simple - don't put forth the right effort, and you're expendable.  I loved it.

At this point, it's up to Puig to decide how he wants to write this next chapter.  Will he continue to do the little things that irk teammates, like overthrow cutoff men and take unnecessary risks on the bases?  Or, will he not take his talent for granted and be prepared in every situation?  His talent level is off the charts, but so is his recklessness at times.  That has to even out.

One thing that will definitely help is the impending return of Matt Kemp.  A healthy (we hope) Kemp brings another impact bat to the lineup and good glove in the outfield.  It will also create a logjam of four outfielders, something that Mattingly can hold over Puig's head if he's not playing the right way.  Mattingly can show a lot of patience when he doesn't have many replacement options, but when his team's at full strength, he can pull the trigger on a switch much easier.

Something that must be said is that Puig handled his postgame comments like a pro, as he admitted his mistake and will learn from it.  That's good to say, but now we need to see if he means it.  All indications are that he'll be in the lineup Friday in San Diego, so there's his first chance.

And let's be honest - the Dodgers are really good, but a focused Puig makes them so much deadlier in the playoffs.  They need him.

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