Yasiel Puig: The message has been delivered, but has it been received?

Before Sunday’s game, as a group of reporters sat around with Dodgers manager Don Mattingly in the visiting clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park, the topic of conversation turned to Yasiel Puig and his spotty fundamentals. And the topic of conversation stayed there for a while.

Mattingly told us what we already knew, that Puig’s tendency to throw to the wrong base and to take not-always-wise risks on the basepaths had been addressed, directly to the player himself with an interpreter involved, several times. Mattingly said that this weekend, he had even asked Jose Vizcaino, a special assistant in the front office and a longtime major league infielder, to serve as Puig’s interpreter during one of these frank discussions because Mattingly prefers to have someone with a baseball background do the interpreting in those situations.

Mattingly said Puig seemed receptive. Said Puig always seems receptive. That he seems to get it.

So why, then, does he continue to make the same mistakes?

We saw it again on Sunday — twice — although luckily for the Dodgers, it didn’t cost them anything. This time.

With one out and a man on first in the bottom of the sixth, Puig ran down a base hit by Domonic Brown in right field and fired another of his patented, high-arcing throws to third base. You know those throws, the ones that sail high above the heads of the proper cutoff man. It made for a close play, with Chase Utley forced to slide into the bag, but in reality, Puig never had a chance to throw him out. And of course, an ever-alert Brown was able to take second on the throw. Brown didn’t end up scoring, but he could have.

In the third of four hitless at-bats on the afternoon, Puig led off the sixth inning by reaching on an error. He then was picked off by Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, who like most left-handers has a deceptive pickoff move that is difficult to read. The way the rest of the inning played out, Puig likely wouldn’t have scored anyway.

Granted, Puig is 22, and having lived his entire life in Cuba until a little more than a year ago, it’s entirely possible that he never received the kind of coaching that would have made him an instinctive, fundamentally polished ballplayer. But the thing is, he is receiving that kind of coaching now. Receiving it all the time, in fact. Ad nauseam.

And still, for whatever reason, he just doesn’t seem to get it.

Mattingly was asked after the game if it might be time to consider sending some kind of loud message to Puig. Maybe yank him from a game the next time he does something like that.

“He’s not the only guy who misses a cutoff man,” Mattingly said. “He isn’t the only guy who gets picked off. I can’t take a guy out of the game every time it happens. We’ll keep teaching. We knew what we were getting into when we called him up — that he was good with the bat, and it has been pretty good.”

In other words, Dodgers officials feel they need Puig’s offensive production in the lineup every night, and they’re willing to put up with the unvarnished parts of his game in order to do it.

Consider this, though: Puig left Philadelphia hitting .358 — normally a phenomenal batting average, especially for a rookie who is right around that point (66 games) when opposing scouting reports tend to catch up to a guy. But that .358 is the LOWEST batting average Puig has had since he was promoted to the majors on June 3. He has just five hits in his past 25 at-bats, the closest he has really come to a slump.

Maybe it’s the perfect time to sit him for a game or two. Send him a message that it’s time to get the message. And perhaps the next couple of days, when the Dodgers will play in Miami for the first time since Puig’s callup and will do so in front of a whole host of Puig’s friends and relatives, would be the perfect time to do it if you really want to get his attention.

“I don’t want to embarrass guys,” Mattingly said. “Sometimes I think he’s the one guy who never gets a day off. He pretty much plays every day. Maybe he needs a day off to rest and see the game too.”

So does that mean the time has come for that?

“No,” Mattingly said.

Well, OK, then.

13 comments

  1. It’s such a fine line Donnie has to walk with Puig. You don’t want to stifle the enthusiasm, you don’t want to not have him make a throw or take a base that will give you a win, but you want him to “play smart”. It’s a maturation process, and it takes longer for some people than others. So far, Donnie’s approach has had far more good, make that great, results than bad. And, we have the luxury of giving Puig lots of opportunities to “get it”. Carry on Dodgers, this is one fantastic ride!

  2. Thanks dude. You rock

  3. You would think his compadres (Hanley and Uribe) could evoke some peer pressure on the guy. A little pressure and prodding from fellow players might be more persuasive to the obviously headstrong youngster.

    • Agreed. It seems like we see A-Gonz or sometimes even Ethier in that role, but not evidence of Uribe or Hanley.

  4. Hey Tony, welcome back. I loved reading you on ESPN-LA and your old Dodger Report…..

    I think you are spot on about sitting Puig for a game or maybe two. He just doesn’t get it…

    Tough loss, but, those things happen in a 162 game season. It comes down to how you rebound from it.. Especially in the dog days and down the stretch ……

    Good luck with your new venture.. So far, I give you a big thumbs up buddy…

  5. The other day, the Cubs manager yanked Starlin Castro from a game after his lackadaisical play let a run score. Maybe that’s what’s needed.

    • Castro had a lack of effort, reason to be benched. Puig gives everything on every play. He needs to make his throws cuttable, however I dont think you can compare the two.

      • I didn’t mean to imply a lack of effort on the part of Castro OR Puig. A bone-headed play is a bone-headed play. Getting yanked from a game as a result might make them think more about what they’re doing, and its effect on the game.

      • I disagree. I hear what your saying about the bench being a great tool to control these things, however I feel a bone headed play that comes from a player busting it on every play is different that one from a lack of effort. He needs to play smart, yet aggressive baseball.

  6. The “deceptive” pick off move is a balk that will never be called. It used to be called. I called it when I was umping. The foot has to go directly toward first. Hamel’s foot was brought up even with the rubber and ended up three feet forward from the rubber. Technically, by rule, a balk. But guys like Hamel have been doing it for years now and today’s umps don’t have the cajones to call it.

    Having said that, Puig should KNOW that is true. Just stay there dummy. There are times when the red light should be on and THAT was one of them. If he doesn’t listen, then fine him. If you aren’t telling him that, then, shame on you. Same with his throws. Make the proper play Yassie. You have been up long enough to have made the dozens of mistakes you have, it’s time to stop that crap. Seriously, it’s time to work the fundamentals like every other player in the league does. The perfect throw does not have to reach third in the air.

  7. Fill out the line-up card and put the interpreters name in Puig’s spot.

  8. Great comments everyone (and I’m not just saying that because you agree with my premise). Excellent points and well stated.