Other than a pinch-hit appearance on Wednesday, Yasiel Puig has been out of the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup since April 5 after he injured his thumb while diving into first base on an infield single. The unpopular decision to go head-first into first base gave Puig critics yet another reason to condemn the young outfielder.
In an interview Friday with Dan Patrick on AM 570, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly attempted yet again to clear the air on perception that Puig is a distraction or detriment to the team:
On a daily basis, this guy is a pretty good kid. He really is. I don’t think people want to believe that. He does some things that are frustrating, but I don’t think he’s ever malicious with them.
Mattingly further went on to compliment Puig on his improvement in hitting the cutoff man and gave the right fielder praise for his play:
This kid is playing some kind of right field. He makes some throws and plays that you kind of go wow, nobody makes those. So that part has really matured.
Puig’s aggressive style of play led to the outfielder overthrowing the cutoff man on numerous times last season, allowing an opposing base runner to take an extra base. The situation
Mattingly then told Patrick of a conversation he had with Puig, asking the young Cuban how he wants to be talked about down the line, to which Puig responded, “just like they’re talking about Derek Jeter right now.”
Puig appeared to have turned a corner with his improved fielding, but took a step back with a base running error in the Opening Series and critical comments from Mattingly regarding his tendency to claim an injury when he struggles at the plate. That was followed by a clearing of the air meeting in which Puig encouraged his teammates to aid with his development. Again, any potential positive progress was offset by Puig’s late arrival on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium.
Puig’s rise to stardom has arguably come at a faster rate and in a larger spotlight than any other baseball player in recent memory. While Puig has managed to improve on the field, his next step in evolving as a player is eliminating off the field issues.
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