When Yasiel Puig arrived at Dodger Stadium on Monday for his first game there since being traded to the Reds in the offseason, fans in Los Angeles were quickly reminded of what they’d been missing.
Well maybe not all that quickly, given that Puig was late in getting to the ballpark and missed a distribution of rings commemorating the Dodgers’ NLCS win over the Brewers to the four players dealt to Cincinnati. That was more or less in character for the Cuban-born outfielder, which likely helped his former teammates and Dodgers executives recall much of what they were most certainly not missing about him.
Once the game started, however, Puig wasted little time in taking Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw deep, connecting on an impressive first-inning home run. That was more than enough of a reminder of his enormous power, part of a tantalizing package of athletic gifts too often held at bay by a mercurial mind-set.
Puig’s home run elicited loud booing as he circled the base paths. That could have reflected a mixture of unhappiness with his inconsistent play as a Dodger and frustration with Los Angeles’s decision to deal him in a move that was widely interpreted as clearing roster and salary space for what would turn into a futile effort to land Bryce Harper.
In any event, the other three players in that trade, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer, got their rings in what was described as an informal ceremony outside the visitors’ clubhouse. On hand to welcome the group back to Los Angeles was Dodgers owner Mark Walter and other team officials, including manager Dave Roberts.
Asked about missing that moment, Puig said (via the AP), “He can send the ring to my locker or give it to me at batting practice. He can give it to me in person, I don’t care.”
After acknowledging that he was “happy” not to have to answer anymore for Puig’s behavior, Roberts said, “This guy did a lot of things in the community and helped the Dodgers do a lot of good things. … When he’s motivated and incentivized, he’s a very good player.”
The suggestion that Puig, 28 and in his eighth MLB season, didn’t always display an adequate degree of motivation echoed comments made by Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner in a story published Sunday by the Los Angeles Times.
“The frustrating part is that if Puig was good, and played good, then we would be a really, really, really good team,” said Turner, Puig’s teammate for the previous six seasons. “So everyone wanted him to be that good player. He didn’t see it that way.
“He just saw it as he was just going to show up and do whatever he wants.”
Puig himself admitted in February that, at least over his final couple of seasons with the Dodgers, he “never worked hard.” In comments at the time to ESPN, he said, “Maybe that’s the reason why I didn’t have my better years.”
According to Reds Manager David Bell, punctuality has not been a problem for Puig since he arrived in Cincinnati. Bell also praised the way the outfielder “has played the game” and been an “outstanding” teammate.
“We love having him here,” Bell said.
Puig hadn’t necessarily been justifying that love in the batter’s box. He brought a lowly .163 batting average, a .200 on-base percentage and a .302 slugging percentage to Dodger Stadium. He also had just one home run and six RBIs in 45 plate appearances this season,, but he rose to the occasion by connecting off Kershaw.
For his part, Kershaw was making his first start of the season after being shut down during spring training because of inflammation in his throwing shoulder. He failed to make an Opening Day start for the Dodgers for the first time since 2010, but recovered well enough after Puig’s clout to go seven strong innings, giving up just the two earned runs on the homer while striking out six with no walks in a 4-3 win.
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