Don Mattingly lauds Yasiel Puig's maturing production
Yasiel Puig caught a fly ball in rightfield, then quickly fired a wild throw across the diamond in anticipation of speedy Eric Young Jr. tagging up and going to third base.
Only problem: There already were three outs.
Had this third-inning brain cramp happened last summer, it might have been seen by the baseball world as yet another example of how the talented, energetic and often flamboyant young Dodger too often gets in his own way.
But Tuesday night at Citi Field, the immediate reaction, at least by his teammates, was playful laughter as he jogged off.
That's because, according to Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, the 23-year-old Puig has built up some cred with teammates and coaches because of his growth into a more mature baseball player, especially with his approach at the plate.
The Dodgers, with their $235-million payroll, arrived in Flushing a struggling team, having lost 10 of 16, but the last person you can point the finger at is Puig. He has emerged this season as a more refined version of the guy who seemed to always have the baseball world buzzing last summer, not always for the best reasons.
"Obviously, he's not perfect at this point, but he's a lot better than he was a year ago," Mattingly said. "That's all you can ask from a guy."
It's also important to note that after Puig burst onto the baseball scene, his breakout year ended on several low notes. He hit .191 with a .397 slugging percentage during his final 21 regular-season games and looked lost in the NLCS, striking out 10 times in 22 at-bats.
Pitchers were getting him to chase balls out of the strike zone. But Puig clearly took note of their strategy, because he's returned with a headier approach at the plate. According to fangraphs.com, entering Tuesday night's game, he had swung at 26.5 percent of pitches out of the strike zone, down from 37 percent a year ago.
"He's forcing guys to throw him strikes," Mattingly said. "Last year, he was more emotional in big situations and RBI situations. And this year, he's calmer, he's been more patient, forcing teams to throw him strikes. Once he does that the sky is the limit offensively."
Puig is on a hot streak. He went 3-for-4 with a walk and was hit by a pitch in last night's 9-4 victory over the Mets He is hitting .411 (30-for-73) in his past 18 games, is batting .333 for the season and there's no sign of him cooling off anytime here against the Mets. His 10th double went off the top of the rightfield wall in the sixth.
"The intensity he plays with, it's magnetic, really," Mattingly said. "I think it's something that we all love, the way he plays, and we've just tried to help his game mature to where it's solid baseballwise without taking the other part away. Because the way he plays is awesome."