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.